Tonya Hawkes is a seasoned accessories designer who has worked with the industry’s top names. After a comprehensive career at Donna Karan and DKNY where she held the post of Senior Designer of handbags and leather goods and VP of handbags and shoes, she was handpicked to become the Creative Director of global luxury accessory brand Furla in Italy. Since her relocation, she has collaborated with Sergio Rossi, Elie Tahari, Gianfranco Ferr, Tommy Hilfiger and Alice + Olivia and launched her own eponymous line of intricate and decadent handbags and clutches.
How did your time at Furla, DKNY and Sergio Rossi influence your decision to launch your own line?
As thankful and blessed as I am, there is a time for everything, and having these experiences were exactly the reason I began my own collection. Somehow I thought one would bring the other, and then I realized they were two very distinctive businesses and require two different set of skills and that I still needed to learn important skills I didn’t learn by working for other companies to have the kind of business I dream of. I decided to launch my collection to allow space for my artistic expression to be free no matter what is going on with my other businesses and also because I wanted to communicate more directly with the girl I have been designing for all my life.
Are you still based in Italy? How does the Italian culture affect your design process?
I am in Italy–I moved here from NYC 10 years ago. Italian culture has strengthened my eyes, touch and knowledge for high quality, and taught me that high quality takes a lot of time and it’s worth every minute of it.
When I look at your box clutches, they’re like pieces of art. Is modern art ever an inspiration for your collections?
I am so inspired, attracted and in love with the modern era as well as art nouveau, and always look for ways to mix the two historical movements of ultra feminine with clean and very essential lines. I also speak about my work in the light of masculine vs. feminine and like to mix materials that are both hard and soft in feeling.
What designers would you like to see paired with your clutches?
Carven, Lanvin, Helmut Lang, Narciso Rodriguez, Philip Lim and Margiela.
Your bags are carried at the most exclusive stores in New York and around the world. What does this say about your customer?
I think “my kind of girl” loves to feel special more than beautiful, even if she is drop dead gorgeous, she contributes to very interesting conversation amongst her peers and they look to her to bring “what’s new” to the table. She is adventurous and loves to discover hidden treasures; she never stops looking no matter what she is doing or what part of the word she is in (or how badly jet lagged she is).
You’ve been fortunate to be positioned in Shop Bazaar. How was the response selling through that medium?
What a fabulous group of talent they have in place for this beautiful magazine and revolutionary format. I feel very lucky to be chosen to be a part of their team. We are mutually thrilled with the outcome of our work together, and have exciting new collaborations ahead.
In what way do you feel customers have learned about your brand most?
They know that I want you to feel unique. From Italy, Dubai, Hong Kong and New York, the first reference everyone has made from day one is that my bags were like a piece of art. Italians call it –OPERA D’ARTE– and that says a lot about standing on your own and being noticed for your values and wholeness.
Have you collaborated with any ready-to-wear designers?
I have worked for Donna Karan for 9 years, and understand ready-to-wear designers very well. I could see a collaboration with a few of the designers mentioned above, such as Tonya Hawkes for Carven or Helmet Lang! I am currently collaborating with Nicholas Kirkwood at Pollini and really loving it.
Do you have aspirations to expand beyond accessories?
I have been designing leather goods, shoes, jewelry, sunglasses, scarves, belts, and hats for sometime now, and have loved every minute of it. I was trained to design and create clothing in school and have made my own clothes for years. I would love to come back around to clothing again, but not entirely sure what I would be signing up for and if it would satisfy my soul in they way I dream about. I know it is a part of me, but I am not sure at what cost. Home accessories on a luxurious scale is a strong force that has not yet been explored that I feel I could dive into without a hesitation, so maybe that’s where I will go next.