Monday, April 25, 2011

A Little Bit of Florence in Chicago

Posted By on 04.25.11 at 10:48 AM

The Tricia Quattro Tassel Tote
  • The Tricia Quattro Tassel Tote from Carrie Ella handbags
Even though globalization is taking its toll on the “Made in Italy” claim, the country is still known for the quality of its leather goods. In Florence, the musky scent of leather, paradoxically redolent of both luxury and the barnyard, is an integral part of the city experience.

While searching for “the perfect handbag” on trips to Florence and other Italian cities and villages, Chicagoan Carrie Ella Carmichael often wondered why it was so hard to find the same quality in the U.S. without spending thousands of dollars. In 2007, after “years and years of research,” she launched My Dream Bag as an e-commerce site, offering ready-made and customizable bags made and hand-sewn at a family-owned tannery in Florence. At the beginning of April, wanting to give customers the tactile experience of a bricks-and-mortar retail operation without having to be tied down by a boutique, she opened a showroom at 4043 N. Ravenswood, which also now functions as her office and design space. “It’s my woman cave,” says Carmichael.

Carmichael designs the bags herself, drawing from trends and elements of designer bags, as well as her own research, which involves going to Macy’s on the weekend and watching women in the handbag department for hours. “Once they say ‘OK, I like the shape of it,’ they’ll spend more time playing with the zippers, taking the stuffing out, playing with the compartments. I’ve seen women take the stuff out of their own bags to take [the new bag] for a test drive.” A mother of a toddler herself, Carmichael is aware that pockets and compartments are essential to a well-organized bag. “You need to reach in and find your keys, the sippy cup, the cell phone, whatever.”

Carmichael sends sketches to the tannery, which creates prototypes, and from there she decides which to put into production, in small orders of five to ten bags per style. Offerings from the spring 2011 line include the Ava Sheepskin Satchel, a sleek yet bohemian carryall, and the Beyonce Bag, a simple number festooned with metal studs. Most are offered in a few classic shades—rich brown, black, and cream. The customizable bags, which include designs modeled after Hermès' famous Birkin and Kelly styles, offer a wider variety of colors and finishes and a choice of silver or gold hardware.

In celebration of the grand opening of the showroom, bags from the ready-made line, known as Carrie Ella, are going for $159, while customers who order a customizable bags receive a five-strand “Black Swan” pearl bracelet. The showroom is open by appointment (773-281-BAGS or mydreambagboutique.com).

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