Chic Spotlight: High-End Handbag Designer, Missy DeGroot
Cincy Chic: What influenced you to become a handbag designer?
Missy DeGroot: Since the age of about 8or 9, I knew that I was going to be a fashion designer. I didn’t know I’d end up specifically in handbags at that time,but I always had the vision! I was looking through the pages of Vogue, Town and Country, Harper’s Bazaar from as far back as I remember! From time to time, my dad would pick up an issue of one of the fashion magazines for me on his way home from work. I recall practically memorizing the fashion spreads and remembering the names of all the designers in the magazine.
Cincy Chic: You originally started your business in Spring 2000 under another name but six years later relaunched your line under “DeGroot.” Why?
DeGroot: I will just say that when I started the business, I did so with another designer who, shortly after, decided to leave the business. Being in business for one’s self isn’t for everyone and we decided it best to part ways amicably. We both had design backgrounds and were missing the component of the business management side. She’s now doing the “mom” thing and raising a family, I have my handbags as “kids!”
Cincy Chic: Can you give us the behind-the-scenes scoop behind your business? How do you come up with the designs, where do you manufacture the bags, where do you sell them, etc.?
DeGroot: That’s a question I have a lot, “How do I come up with the designs?” I can tell you that the creative brain is a very interesting thing. The ideas and designs come when they want. I cannot just sit down and say “Hey, I’m gonna design a bag today.” It’s a process. The brain takes in a lot of subconscious items on a daily basis and then it does something (sometimes at crazy hours of the day and night) where it decides to pop out visions and ideas, that come out when they’re ready, then I have to sketch. Some of the best ideas have made their way from sketches on cocktail napkins and airplane boarding passes to my Sample Makers table! Of course there are processes I go through to research trends on what colors and textures, etc., are coming in style, but that’s different from the “Aha!” moment, when I know I have a great design!
The bags are sold primarily in upscale specialty shops across the nation. The collection has been picked up by various boutiques worldwide as well, some in Japan, Sweden, the UK, Canada. The collection is sold through my sales reps (in showrooms in New York, Atlanta and Denver) who, in turn, sell to the boutiques.
Cincy Chic: You travel the world for inspirations for your collection. Which country/city has inspired you the most and is reflected in your collection?
DeGroot: Most of my travels for business are to Italy. Italy is the best place for cutting edge leathers. Twice a year, I travel to a tradeshow in Bologna, Italy,where hundreds of European tanneries show their latest raw material collections. I’m talking about looking at leather hides, not the finished goods. Everyone in the accessory business worldwide attends this show. Usually, the trends are set one year ahead. So, when I travel to Italy next month, I will be looking at what’s coming out for Fall/Winter 2009! Sometimes I get confused about what’s in the stores now because I’m already working so far ahead!
I must say that, for me, it’s important that I not follow the trends so exactly because in my sector of the market, people want something very different and unique. I need to stay with the influence of what is happening in fashion, but also remain true to my own sense of aesthetic design style. I think there is too much of a “cookie cutter” trend look these days. I find that the boutiques that I sell to want something more unique. Something that gives their customer a reason to shop in their store instead of the “cookie cutter” stores.
Cincy Chic: What is your favorite piece in your collection? What’s the most popular one?
DeGroot: My favorite pieces each season change with my mood! Sometimes my favorite will be because of a color and other times it’s the shape of a bag that makes it my favorite. Right now, my favorite bag is the “6-speed” clutch! That bag is just sooo hot! I love the red patent croco! We sold out of our inventory of that style it was so hot.
Cincy Chic: You had the incredible privilege and honor of selling your original collection on QVC. How was it?
DeGroot: The QVC thing was awesome! I really hope to have the opportunity to do it again in the near future! The first time I was on air was at about 1:30 a.m. My first thought was, “Who in the heck is buying bags in the middle of the night?” But I soon found out that lots of women were up buying bags! I sold out of inventory in a matter of minutes being on the air! It was such an incredible experience. Everyone at the studio was so wonderful to work with. I will say that QVC is quite an operation from all aspects. It was hard to believe that it was completely live TV and it was being seen in millions of homes.
Cincy Chic: What advice do you have for other fashionable women who want to open up their own business as you did?
- Be prepared for the unexpected. Things very rarely go exactly according to plan.
- You have to be prepared to make mistakes. But sometimes your mistakes can be your biggest blessings in the long run because you learn from them.
- Believe in what you’re doing and don’t let anyone get in your way or tell you something cannot be accomplished! It may take you longer than you expected, but if you really feel passionately about what you are working toward, then don’t give up!
- Love what you are doing.
- You have to have tough skin. Don’t let a setback or a “no” keep you from moving forward. If there’s a will, there’s a way.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice.
Cincy Chic: In your opinion, how do you define “fashion”? What’s your own personal style?
DeGroot: I define “fashion” as the way that someone outwardly expresses their personality through wardrobe and accessories. Fashion is different from just “getting dressed”- anyone can do that. My own sense of fashion would be more on the edgy side. I’m a bit more “sexy chic” with a little rocker edge. No girlie for me! One of my friends summed it up one day at the mall. She said, “Missy, you don’t do ‘cute/girlie,’ your ‘look’ is more sexy/edgy!”
Cincy Chic: Why do you think it’s important to have a great handbag and why do women love them so much?
DeGroot: You can tell a lot about someone by the bag she carries. Think about it, this bag transports all the “important” items that you cannot live without during the day! I believe that a great bag can actually make the outfit! I like to do what I call the “T-shirt” test If you are wearing a white tee and great jeans, you should be able to put on your handbag and make your outfit go from “so-so” to “va-va voom”! But really, that’s what a great bag will do! Don’t be shy to carry a big, bold, brightly colored bag! Make a statement!
I think women love bags so much because it’s a way they can be a little outrageous! Some women who might dress more on the conservative side might be more “outgoing” with their bag. And how can we forget that one size fits all? If your jeans are a little snug, your bag will still fit!
Cincy Chic: How do you think Cincinnati ranks in the fashion category?
DeGroot: I think Cincinnati has a lot of women who crave fashion and who follow the trends. But our reputation as being a “conservative” city is true. There are some global trends that will never make their way here, but that’s also what makes us a diverse country. Fashion on the West Coast is very different from New York or Dallas.
Cincy Chic: What’s your favorite fashionable thing about Cincinnati?
DeGroot: My favorite fashionable thing about Cincinnati is Cincy Chic and DeGroot Handbags!
Seriously, I must add that our city is home to one of the very best design schools in the country. UC’s DAAP has been on the top of the charts for years. Having had experience working with interns and graduates from both UC’s fashion design department and some of New York’s top fashion design schools, I can say that the UC students are very talented and well prepared for the fashion world!
If you have a recommendation of a fabulous, noteworthy and chic woman for our Chic Spotlight, we want to know! Send us an e-mail and we’ll consider your recommendation.
Photo: Neysa Ruhl Photography
Location: The McAlpin
Makeup Artistry: Charlie Greer, Lancome Makeup Artist, Saks Fifth Avenue