Image courtesy Fiona Kotur
Interview

Fiona Kotur

11.25.13

Handbag designer Fiona Kotur is the founder of Kotur, a now Hong Kong-based accessories label known for its signature clutches and minaudières. Upon completing her studies at Wellesley College, Yale and Parsons, Kotur landed her first job in fashion overseeing product design of handbags and accessories at Ralph Lauren, before co-founding Tory Burch and later founding her own line in 2004. Since then, Kotur has collaborated with brands such as Rachel Roy and J. Crew while her pieces have become red carpet favorites.

Interview

Your brand story is very interesting. What did you study when you were at Yale?

I studied Art History at Yale and then at Wellesley under several professors whose work I really admired. I have always had an appreciation for the arts; my mum is an artist and I was brought up to be interested from a very young age. I think that having a base in Art History and having the vocabulary around the arts is actually very helpful in design. It has certainly been very important as a reference point for me throughout my career.

What was the very first bag you designed?

The first bag I ever did was a vintage brocade wallet style clutch. I had come across this extraordinary factory owned by an old man in Hong Kong’s Kowloon district. He sold the most beautiful vintage brocades that I had made up into bags to sell on behalf of the charity Operation Smile. It was meant to be a one off, but to our amazement they were picked up by retailers like Scoop and Bergdorf’s and Browns, and we just sort of developed the rest of the collection from there.

When you launched in 2004, wasn’t it before it was trendy to carry a clutch in the daytime?

To be honest, we’ve never really been about following trends, and I’ve been a fan of the minaudière for years. I think it’s always nice to make a statement with something beautifully conceived and artistically made. We’re all about small bags with big personalities and always have been.

Having acquired so many resources throughout your experience in Asia, is your collection produced overseas? What would you identify as the most challenging part of production?

We source our materials from all over Asia – it’s one of the most interesting parts of the business. We love to find hidden gems, the family businesses that celebrate true craft and that have been going for generations, and try to reinterpret them in a way that’s understandable to our markets today. We use batik fabrics and tinalak, a kind of woven grass from Indonesia. This season we have used a lot of handcrafted shell pieces from the Philippines, and one of our favourite suppliers is a third generation family business down the road from us in Hong Kong that specialise in handmade brass hardware. Working with such diverse suppliers is definitely challenging sometimes, but it’s worth it for the wonderful stories!

How did you meet Tory Burch? In what way were you involved in the launch of her company?

Tory and I had been friends for 25 years, and when she wanted to start her business I was already living in Asia, so she asked me to set up her sourcing and production here and help her find her manufacturing partners.

How did the collaboration with Wes Gordon come about?

Wes reached out to us, and as huge admirers of his work, we were more than thrilled to work with him. It was a phone call we responded to immediately and it’s resulted in a very natural collaboration. The bags that came into being are some of our favourites of all time, in fact.

What was the design process like?

The design process came about around my kitchen table in New York with scraps, scissors and glue – and the results were just brilliant. Honestly, that’s how it happened! We worked with prints based on some of his textiles, and within a couple of hours we had the bags designed. I think we were both pleased with the results, they felt in keeping with both of our brands. And we had a really good time doing it – there was plenty of enthusiasm in the room!

Did you get sneak peak at his SS14 collection?

I arrived off the plane the night before his show with the samples in hand and went straight down to the studio to take them to the final fittings. I have to say I loved pretty much everything I saw.

Were you a fan of Wes Gordon pre-collaboration?

I’ve been a fan of Wes’s for a while. He has an easy elegance and a nice way of cutting that I gravitate to.

Is there an ultimate accessory you would design for men?

We have two men’s bags in progress right now. One is the Peter Pouch, a unisex envelope named after our friend Peter Chung. Then we’re also doing the Carreon bag – in fact, a carry-on bag. Both were designed with two men whose style we admire in mind.

As a mom of four boys, are you viewed as the princess? What do they think of your bags?

They view me as quite the opposite in fact! At home, I’m one of the guys, which is why I love to escape into my alternative universe. But they’re extremely proud of what I do and always get incredibly excited for me if they ever spot anyone carrying Kotur. They’ll happily run up to strangers and say, “I think that’s my mum’s bag!”