New York City’s maverick handbag designer, the Brazilian-born Carlos Falchi (1944–2015), began his multibillion-dollar accessories brand in the bathtub of his Greenwich Village apartment.
In the 1960s, Falchi started by making leather clothing — bleaching snakeskin in his tub — for rock stars and jazz artists like Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and Miles Davis. But when he turned his attention to handbags, persuaded by Geraldine Stultz, the president of Henri Bendel, he found his true calling.
In a world flush with iconic “It” handbags, Falchi’s bags are distinctive and eye-catching, with soft, pliable forms, dazzling patchwork designs and dyed skins from exotic animals such as alligators, frogs, buffalo and water snakes. Even though he was a self-taught artisan, Falchi managed to reinvent the approach that yields the stiff, formal structure typically associated with the upright handbags of European luxury houses. His groundbreaking and oft-imitated Buffalo bag, an unconstructed and lightweight satchel made from a single skin with only two seams and a gathered front, went on to garner universal success for the craftsman, with Women’s Wear Daily deeming it “the most copied bag in the industry.” For his celebrated slouchy bag, Falchi was inspired by the draping techniques he learned while attending art school in Japan. In 1983, he won a Coty American Fashion Critics Award for the accessory.
Falchi made his clutches, shoulder bags and top-handled bags by hand in his New York City atelier, and the designer’s work garnered praise from fashion legends such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Barbra Streisand and Sarah Jessica Parker. In the years leading up to his death in 2015, Falchi began to sell inexpensive versions of his handbags on the Home Shopping Channel. A sampling of his work is held today in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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