Byline: Louise Farr

LOS ANGELES — English handbag designer Lulu Guinness stood in Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills on Sept. 8, gazing at a group of mannequin forms. They were dressed in vintage outfits and carried her distinctive flower-bedecked and fan-shaped bags, similar to the ones bought by Madonna, Judi Dench, Cate Blanchett, Elizabeth Hurley and Jerry Hall.
“It’s wonderful when people take your signature look and give it back to you,” said Guinness as she marveled at the display, which sat on a hot-pink and leopard-print rug. “They’ve totally got me.”
This was Guinness’s first personal appearance here. She has two stores in London — a flagship near Sloane Square and a second in Notting Hill — and she described her current mood as “empire building.” Guinness’s company, which she began 10 years ago, produces about 17,000 bags a year now; a tenfold increase in the past four years. She’s projecting a volume of $1.5 million for the next fiscal year.
“We’ve done very well with her. I still think there’s room for growth,” said Neiman Marcus general manager John Martens, adding that he found the bags charming. “Either you like that sort of thing or it may be too much for a lot of people. You’ve got to have the confidence to wear them.”
Admittedly, Guinness — a petite woman who was dressed in a flowery Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress — has always been inspired by wildly feminine Fifties glam, partly because she’s drawn to it, she said, but also because she had to find a niche.
During the appearance and at a breakfast held in her honor, Neiman’s customers clustered around to examine her tiny flower-appliqued velvet pouches, painted-silk miniature flowerpot shapes topped with antique flowers and English cottage-style bags embroidered with hollyhocks (prices start at about $500 retail). Guinness has also created a millennium bag, retailing for $680, which was embroidered in Pakistan with a tiny calendar.
Recently Guinness, who’s married to English musician Valentine Guinness, started designing larger bags for day.
“So that you can actually carry something in them,” she said. “Practicality has never been what they were about before.”
Her spring-summer line includes an embroidered denim shoulder bag at $600 and a $550 glazed linen zip-top bag with a clear plastic handle that will be available in orange, green, aqua, sparkle denim and straw.
During the one-day appearance, Neimans sold 12 to 15 bags and sold out of the millennium bags, which they reordered. Guinness’s line is carried at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Jeffrey in New York and Atlanta, Jerry Rice in Seattle, Capitol in Charlotte, N.C., and Joseph in Memphis. After a quick stop in New York, Guinness was headed back to London for fashion week there.
“I love coming to America,” she said. “It’s such a shot in the arm. It really inspires you.”