Jess Rizzuti’s handbags: Practicality with style

Jess Rizzuti’s passion for fashion started with a pair of luxe red cowboy boots she picked out as a young child. She knew what she wanted – and what she wanted to do.

“I was always making things, always drawing things,” she explained. “I knew when I was 12 that I wanted to be an artist of some sort.”

A big “handbag buyer,” Rizzuti was naturally drawn to handbag design. After studying textiles at the Rhode Island School of Design, she went on to learn about handbags and accessories at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Fortunate to have friends in high, or at least somewhat high, places in business and fashion, Rizzuti found it fairly easy to launch her business—despite having no work experience at a major label.

“I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to start, no matter who says, “Oh, you’re crazy to start.”’ … So I really just dove right into it,” she revealed. She introduced her first complete collection in August 2008 from a series of sketches.

As a textile designer, Rizzuti sees the world in patterns, such as a field of flowers.

“Anything I pulled from a texture that I could almost repeat it in my mind and see it as wallpaper or as fabric for apparel or furniture,” she described. “It just kind of always made sense to me to make things repeat naturally, and sort of see patterns in the world and my surroundings all the time.”

Her designs are classic with a contemporary twist, perfect for today’s professional woman.

“I like to have some really classic silhouettes, something that is not just going to be popular for a limited time, but something that can really transcend from season to season, or from material to material,” she said.

Her bags run the gamut, from clutches made of molded cork to leather satchels and statement piece crocodile clutches. Each bag is carefully crafted for its future purpose, resulting in a marriage of practicality and style.

“I think a lot about what women put in their bags, where they are going, how much money they spend on their bags,” Rizzuti said. “A lot of different things go into it before I start sketching and sometimes that will dictate the style, but I try to have the best of both form and function.”

Rizzuti, though, is always careful to recognize that a purse is also a fashion statement.

“I don’t design bags to be completely utilitarian. I think that they should be fashionable, and they should make a statement or change an outfit,” the designer said.

She gravitates toward rich materials such as hand-sourced Italian and Argentine leathers. Discovering vendors willing to personalize her materials with custom dyed colors or embossing has given her the freedom to be expressive: She can pick a paint color and the leather makers can make it happen.

Rizzuti’s muses include nature, architecture and her travels. Her main source of inspiration: “just being aware of my surroundings and pulling from everyday life.”

In January, she will journey to Kenya, where she will create a capsule collection in conjunction with Care for Kenya, a nonprofit that creates sustainable employment for women living in Nairobi slums.

“With all the money out there, to see countries or see people living in slums, they have little or no money to survive,” she said. “I think that anything I can do personally to help someone else, there’s fulfillment in that for me and for other people.”

For Rizzuti, designing is a never-ending process of refinement. Her styles constantly spawn new ideas, and she takes pleasure in watching her sketches come alive.

“I sit down and I sketch and I sketch and I sketch. I have a sketchbook on me 24/7,” she said. “With my collection, from start to finish, I’m in as much of it as I possibly can be.”

All bags are crafted domestically in her home state of New York with careful attention to detail and textures and colors that stay true to Rizzuti’s own style, rather than trends that come and go. She believes this meticulous process is instrumental to her success.

Her favorite part of fashion: that it has no limit.

“I love that things reinvent themselves, and things come and go and come back and regenerate,” she said. “It’s always great to see a fresh take on something familiar.”

As a “big bag carrier” herself, her favorite of her designs is the roomy Fifi carry-all, inspired by a carpetbag.

“I can put anything in there, from a sketchbook to totally different outfit to a change of shoes,” she maintained. “It’s kind of like borderline luggage. It can take me anywhere with anything. I load it up and it will hold it all.”

Although focused on her handbags, Rizzuti dreams of eventually having her own boutique and expanding to luggage and shoes. Her latest venture is exploring cork, an eco-friendly material with a range of uses.

Check out the entire line at

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Fashion / Features


LadyLUX via Jess Rizzuti

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