PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Parisian chic has many emissaries but none quite so playful as luxury handbag designer Olympia Le Tan, whose third collection based on maps and globes brings new bag shapes and more of her signature handiwork.
Her bags are produced to order in sets of 16 and hand-stitched in a Parisian studio at a time when haute couture, and the world of fashion more broadly, is shedding its taboo about outsourcing and growing ever more globalised.
The trendy designer who came of age as the assistant of former Balmain creative director Gilles Dufour told Reuters ahead of her show that she had no intention of turning her boutique business into an international franchise.
"I like the fact that it's a boutique," she said in an interview in a hotel room, surrounded by her bags. "We work as a family and I have a hand in everything the brand puts out.
For her third show, held late on Sunday in a planetarium in Paris, the half-British Le Tan branches off from the book cover designs which established her name with trendsetters to take an unlikely turn into the world of cartography.
Maps, globes and books with titles such as "Man in the Sky" are the main inspiration for her show and give each new object a distinctive form, with many handbags losing their angles and taking on circular shapes as well as globes.
The spark for the show came in April when the eruption of a volcano in Iceland interrupted her vacation plans and got her thinking about the state of the planet in playful, irreverent terms, Le Tan said.
"There were no flights above Europe for a week, it felt like something was going seriously wrong -- some people were even talking about the end of the world in 2012, which I found very funny at the time," she said.
"This is my way of making light after a year that seems to have been all about natural disasters and people worrying about the state of the environment."
Le Tan, no environmentalist by her own admission, still works with a tiny staff in her Parisian studio and puts finishing touches to many of her hand-stitched creations herself.
The latest show features more of the signature detail work which gives her bags their price tag -- between 230 and 1,900 euros -- and explains why they are sold in limited editions at some 15 stores around the world.
Though less colorful than previous shows, her latest offers up daring variations on form, as with a suede-covered globe-shaped bag printed with leather continents that opens like a Faberge egg onto a plush leather interior.
Here again the devil is in the details with exquisitely padded handbag interiors, delicate stitching over hand-cut felt patterns and jewel-like clasps.
The effect is closer to jewelry than pure fashion and Le Tan said that is no coincidence.
"Many of my friends and the people who inspired me were jewelry designers, not people from the world of fashion per se," she said. "We share a sense of scale and attention to sometimes microscopic detail."
Carried by a small but exclusive set, Le Tan handbags have been snapped up by celebrities including Tilda Swinton and Chloe Sevigny who want an accessory that is stylish, instantly recognizable and emblematic of a certain idea of Parisian chic.
Customers can still order handbags stitched with felt renderings of their favorite book cover designs -- though Le Tan will have to clear every design herself.
Editing by Steve Addison