Design may be intrinsic to Lee Savage, but fashion is really career number two.
After receiving a B.A. in history from the University of Virginia, Savage moved to New York, where she studied interior design at Parsons The New School for Design, and began her professional life working for a small residential firm in New York. Shortly thereafter, however, she found herself with an extracurricular activity: building models of evening bags out of Bristol board. Cut to September 2013, when Savage, having left the world of interior design, officially launched her namesake company, which produces high-end clutches.
“I’ve always loved fashion a little bit more [than interior design], I guess, and was a bit more passionate about that,” Savage said of the career change. “I’ve always been interested in creating a project, and clutches seemed like a vehicle to build sculptures that could be functional.”
And, like many designers starting out, her own sartorial desires fueled the project. “I was having a hard time finding something clean and minimalist in an evening bag,” she said. “The bags I saw weren’t what I was looking for and seemed like sort of an older market.”
Savage describes her designs as “clean, harsh and minimalist,” with a prominent architectural influence. “[I am] greatly influenced by the modern art and architecture of the 20th century Minimalist movement,” she said. “With the Stack and Spaces series [of bags], I poured through the works of artists such as Sol LeWitt and Donald Judd, intensely studying the geometric forms and linear repetition that pervade them. I then attempted to apply the principles of these works to the structure of the clutches.”
To produce the bags, Savage first designs a model of the bag in her New York studio before sending it to an Italian factory that manufactures the end product.
Materials play a key part in creating Savage’s sleek aesthetic, with each piece made from a solid brass frame, plated in metal and then lined with leather. “I’ve always loved brass and thought it would be a neat thing to incorporate into the bags,” she said. “You’re able to get really fine points and lines with metals.”
While design might come easy to Savage, the business aspect admittedly does not.
“Not having that background, there is so much that I didn’t know, from the basic sales process to p.r.,” she said. “It’s hard to find a balance with the back- and-forth between business and creative, but eventually you do, and you find what works for you.”
For her debut season, Savage worked with The White Space, a showroom/incubator hybrid for young designers founded by stylist Alison Brokaw. “It worked out really well,” she said of the partnership. “It was nice to be part of something from the ground up for a bunch of young designers.”
That presentation, held for her spring 2014 collection, helped garner retail space for the new brand, with both Barneys New York and Net-a-porter purchasing pieces to carry.
Today, Lee Savage bags are carried worldwide, with a strong emphasis in the Middle East, as well as online at e-tailers such as Moda Operandi, Farfetch and Editorialist. Prices range from $1,900 to $3,000.
Just a few months past the brand’s one-year anniversary, Savage is looking to enter growth mode. “[Right now], the team is just me,” she said. “My next step is figuring out how and when to grow. That’s something on my plate right now — figuring how to move forward, finding the right people, things like that.”
Besides developing her current three-style roster of clutches, Savage hopes to venture into additional categories. “You’re always trying to find the balance between staying true to the style and not changing too much too quickly, as people are still getting used to the brand,” she said. “Still, I am looking at the process of starting more day bags and eventually getting into other categories, like jewelry and other accessories.”
What about a return to her interior design roots? “I would love that,” Savage said. “I think the bags speak to my background in architecture, and whether it’s a furniture line or tableware, it could be really fun and fascinating to bring the aesthetics of the bags into larger objects like that and see how they translate.”