Jerome Dreyfuss in his Paris studio.
For Jerome Dreyfuss, handbags must first be practical. Playfulness comes second, and beauty comes naturally.
From his sun-soaked studio just off Paris’s Place de la Bastille, the designer explains his inspiration: architects like George Nelson and Jean Prouvé, who approached form by way of utility. Dreyfuss does the same, designing his handbags from the inside out—thinking of what the women who wear them need to carry and letting that inform the aesthetic.
Dreyfuss got his foot in the door of the fashion world working with John Galliano in 1995, just as the British designer was arriving in Paris to work with Givenchy. “He told me he was looking for someone to carry the fabrics, and I said, why not?” says Dreyfuss. After leaving Galliano for a two-year stint with Elite Model Management, Dreyfuss launched his first collection of ready-to-wear apparel in 1998, but the lifestyle proved to be more than the designer wanted, and after six seasons, Dreyfuss stopped designing clothes.
Handbags from the Jerome Dreyfuss spring/summer 2011 collection.
It was a redefining of priorities for the designer sparked by the birth of his son (with wife Isabel Marant), and this family-work balance continues to guide his decisions. “First of all, I want to have a private life,” says Dreyfuss. “And after, there is my job. My job is not before my life.”
Dreyfuss designed his first handbag—Billy—in 2002, in the era of the It bag. To hear him tell it, the decision was almost a whim, a reaction to the non-bags his artist girlfriends were carrying in defiance of the logo trend. Having never designed a handbag, Dreyfuss started the same way he sketched his dresses. “And then it came out, and it was really soft and really supple, and it was an accident, of course,” he says. “And I said, oh my god, that would be cool—supple, light bags.”
Cool does not quite begin to describe Jerome Dreyfuss handbags. Unassuming silhouettes in buttery leathers and skins give way to playful colors and mixed patterns. Dreyfuss calls his designs “chewing bags,” after the brightly colored bubble gum (the French call it “chewing gum”) popular among American adolescents. And each carryall carries a male name because, says Dreyfuss, of the fortunate position bags hold on a woman’s body. “In carrying Billy (during the design process), I thought, I would love to be a handbag.”
A lineup of rich cognac styles, also from the spring/summer 2011 collection.
This charming buoyancy of spirit, coupled with the beautiful handcrafted workmanship and Dreyfuss’s own ideals, will help this brand endure. “I’m not thinking too much about trends, about who is wearing what,” says Dreyfuss. “I’m just trying to please my friends. That’s it. They’re the girls I’m working for.”
The designer aims to fill out the closets of these friends. Dreyfuss designed a leather jacket because he noticed all his friends were wearing the same basic black style, and next season he’s working on one-of-a-kind sunglasses painted by some of his artist pals. Dreyfuss hinted at shoes, but said he would approach them only when he was ready. “My answer is just to do what I feel when I feel it.”