Sarabella James handbag designs
A collection with two showings in this year’s New York Fashion Week all started with one little handmade bag a decade ago.
“While shopping in 2001, I had a clear vision of a handbag nestled in the back of my mind and just couldn’t find anything I liked enough to buy,” says Jannis D’Alessandri, founder of Sarabella James. “Frustrated, I decided to sketch the vision into a pattern form, cut it out and teach myself how to sew it all back together somehow.”
D’Alessandri made several bags for herself that fit her vision. She soon found that, when she’d wear her handbags out in public, women would often stop to ask where she got her bag. She later made a few for friends and family. Turns out, they too were stopped with handbag admirers.
Jannis D’Alessandri and Richard Q backstage at NYFW
At the time, though, Edgewood KY-based D’Alessandri was a busy mother of three and she loved her bags too much to let them go. “Every time I’d finish a bag, I’d love it more than the last and wouldn’t let a darn one go,” D’Alessandri laughs. “I made bags and more bags until I had almost 50. I decided it was more fun to lend them out to family and friends and hear their stories when they returned the bag.” So, she shelved her dreams of being a handbag designer and focused on raising her kids.
Fast forward to 2010, D’Alessandri attended a large textile show in Los Angeles, and happened to be carrying one of her handbags while browsing the textile vendors. To her surprise, her bag again attracted attention. But this time, it caught the attention of high profile designers, buyers, and fashion industry professionals.
By chance, D’Alessandri met and began to share a vision and business partnership with a small manufacturer. Soon thereafter, Sarabella James (named after her three children) was born. D’Alessandri had one requirement though: no mass production. She wanted each handbag to be proudly and meticulously handmade in the U.S., with no two alike.
Today, she imports textiles from around the world – France, Italy, England, Germany, India, Thailand, Hong Kong and South America just to name a few – and she produces posh purses (which range from $250 to $1,500) in a variety of sizes:
- Slouchy Hobos, Bucket Bags and Pouches
- Structured Satchels and Totes
- Pudgy Petites
- Worthy Wristlets
- Charismatic Cross Bodies and Clutches
D’Alessandri’s designs showed twice during this year’s New York Fashion Week (NYFW) as she accessorized the designs of NY-based designer Richard Q for the “Richard Q Fashion Week Kick Off Event featuring Sarabella James” at the Yotel in Manhattan Sept. 5.
“It began in July when the NY photographer, Ja’Dee Murphy saw my handbags during Sofia Davis’ Fashion on the Hudson runway show,” D’Alessandri explains. “We hadn’t met but he contacted me shortly after I arrived back in Kentucky. He asked me to collaborate with him and other high profile NY models, hair and makeup artists and designer Richard Q on a photo shoot for the NY magazine Fashion Avenue News October issue.”
It was during that collaboration that Richard Q asked her if she would accessorize his collection at Fashion Week. A week later, she was contacted by Fashion Gallery Productions about hitting the runway of NYFW at the Helen Mills Event Space, on 26 St. in Manhattan to show Sarabella James in her own show on Sept. 8.
A Sarabella James bag works the runway at the “Richard Q
“After four days of deliberation I accepted. I was reluctant because this global event was a mere 10 days away,” D’Alessandri laughs. “It’s been a whirlwind of decisions and finalizing all the details of my show leading up to me boarding the plane for New York City. All details of styling the models hair, makeup, shoes and outfits, to music and more importantly which bags were to be escorted down the runway.”
The collection D’Alessandri featured at NYFW is called Decades of Decadence. “My inspiration came from my mother and how she decorated our childhood home with decadent rich luxurious fabrics such as damasks, velvets, tapestries, brocades, bullion fringes and crystal prisms,” she explains. “All of which you will see sprinkled throughout my entire collection.”
D’Alessandri says both shows went well and she’s thankful she agreed to participate. “New York Fashion Week is a well-oiled machine and you must bring your A Game,” she explains. “Seasoned and emerging designers from all over the world come for their moment to have their collections seen during the most important week of the year for fashion, and Sarabella James is here. Pinch me!”
Two and a half years after officially launching, D’Alessandri takes a moment in the midst of NYFW to reflect on her success. “I am blessed and so very grateful for this and all the opportunities that my brand has experienced to lead me to this moment,” she says. “Honestly, it’s hard for me to process the success of Sarabella James. It started out as one little bag that I made for myself and has grown into this beloved brand with women from all over the U.S. and beyond carrying my handbags.”
Now that NYFW has proven to be a successful venture, D’Alessandri will now focus on increasing inventory. “I hope that SBJ can sustain itself in this industry,” she says. “If more growth comes I can only hope and pray that I can grow with it!”
To learn more and view more Sarabella James designs, visit sarabellajames.com.