There are plenty of places to find a good bucket bag. But for the past two years, Mansur Gavriel’s version has been “it” – Kirsten Dunst, Miranda Kerr and Emma Watson have all been snapped carrying one.
For the rest of us, there’s an indefinite wait list. Not bad for a four-year-old label started by two women with little more than internships behind them.
Adelaide-based designer Martine van Reesema has been making her similar-looking bags for all of two months. They’re just as striking, but in a different way. They’re untanned; rich with natural imperfections. They remind you where leather really comes from.
“It’s that very, very polished Italian leather that you see around,” the 26-year-old says of the Gavriel model. “It’s really beautiful. I just wanted something a bit more natural-looking.”
Her first prototype was made in February this year, using soft lambskin leather and experience gained at Showroom Seven, a fashion-consulting agency in New York.
Before that, she studied architecture back home at the University of Adelaide; and fashion design at Whitehouse Institute of Design in Melbourne.
As an architecture student she was fascinated by materials – if something was made of concrete or timber, it had to look like it. That candid aesthetic carried over to apparel. “Right through my fashion studies, everything was very clean and form-based, rather than ‘designed’,” she says.
That mentality is apparent in her first line of bags. Viewed side-on, they’re rectangular. They come large enough to fit an entire laptop, or just roomy enough to suit a purse and sunglasses. The default finish is a pinkish-beige natural leather, though she’s happy to take custom orders in specific colours.
Next up, she’s planning a cylinder, a hexagon satchel and a saddlebag in the form of a three-quarter circle.
Regardless of the shape, each bag is made more or less the same way. Van Reesema buys stiff leather from D.S. Horne (the same company that supplies R.M. Williams) and cuts it into a template. Then she folds it up like a cardboard box, inserting rivets, gluing and sewing where necessary. Each one is finished with a sequential number embossed on the lip.
That she’s just reached the early 20s tells you how new the accidental business is. “I made myself a handbag, and people started coming up and saying, ‘I want one, I want one, I want one.’ Now it’s growing at its own little pace, which is nice,” she says.
For now, she’s crafting from a makeshift bench in her mum’s kitchen. Her ball-obsessed border collie, Woof, proves a constant distraction. Despite this, she can produce a bag every five to 10 days. Or could – that figure is bound to change once the name Martine van Reesema gets out there more.