Niyona Bags to Cherish 2011

There are two areas in fashion where a person's sense of rationality goes into temporary blackout: shoes and bags. In fact, Marc Jacobs based his last womenswear collection at Louis Vuitton around obsession and fetish, two key notions when it comes to accessories. Even though logomania is not as hot as it used to be – at least within the Western world – there's no denying that bags keep on generating major interest from buyers and customers alike.

Nina Bodenhorst, the 26-year-old founder and designer of Niyona, clearly understands the power of bags. She launched her own label in November last year, determined to make something that could satisfy her personal taste, as well as reflect the design heritage of Belgium, where she creates and produces her line: “It was important for me to have my own brand, but I felt strongly about having it made in Belgium. Nowadays, most bag companies outsource their production elsewhere in order to reduce costs, but I really wanted Niyona to go back to craft and artisanship, which are two core values for me” With a background in Industrial Design – Bodenhorst graduated in 2007 from the prestigious Ecole de la Cambre in Brussels – and an internship at Delvaux, she quickly understood that making bags was her thing. Still, a desire for practicality and functional features were essential to her vision: “We started out with two styles, which were based around this idea of being able to carry shoes or clothes into your own bag. We added a zipped compartment, where you could always store a comfortable pair of ballerinas if you got tired of walking in high heels all day. I remember going to Paris during Fashion Week and made a quick stop at Printemps and Galeries Lafayette to see what accessory brands they had. Sales assistants kept stopping us asking where our bags were from and I realised there was a potential to turn my passion into a brand.”

Bodenhorst loves little details and leaves nothing to chance. Her creations are individual and have a voice of their own. She uses plaid cotton to line her bags and likes combining colours and different textures, playing with quilting on quite a few of her styles. However, do not start thinking that Coco Chanel was an obvious inspiration: “I use quilting, because it reminds me of motorbikes, which were basically part of my childhood here. I define it as a soft biker touch, something that has to do with freedom and a sense of escape. It's like that feeling you get from riding a motorbike, leaving restrictions behind and being able to go anywhere.” Niyona's discreet logo displays a pair of stylised wings, demonstrating Bodenhorst's belief in independence. Completely self-financed, she's taking time to hone her concept and will be launching her e-store at the end of the month. She took part in the last edition of Showroom Belgium at the beginning of March – organised by WBDM and FFI – which proved useful in terms of contacts and business opportunities. She even gained a new client in Italy and is planning on starting to prospect around Belgium in the next few days.

Niyona bags are well-made and Bodenhorst has pretty high standards, as far as skins and finishings are concerned. In terms of price points, the range is similar to French brand Lancel, starting at 535 € for the Ariel and going up to 839 € for the Lewis, which is one of the brand's bestsellers. She also had the smart idea of using LED lamps, which can be added on request, to help her clients find their belongings inside their bags.

There's something bubbly and inspiring about Bodenhorst's personality, giving her bags presence and character. She's good at communicating what she believes in, defending honesty rather than seduction: “I'm aware that my bags may not be loved by everyone, but they're really close to my heart and seem to provoke a strong reaction. I just want to keep on evolving as a designer and refine my perspective on accessories. Possibilities with bags are endless, making them exciting items to work with.”

Philippe Pourhashemi | TribaSpace

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