Today I had the pleasure of meeting Aussie designer Brenda Harvey, founder of high end accessories label benah, in a charming cottage at the Château Marmont. She had flown in to Los Angeles a few days earlier to introduce her latest creation for AW2012; SUNSHADOWS, a perfectly formed collection made of leather and canvas bags, silk scarves and jewelry.
While chatting with her, it was impossible not to notice that her personality is just as solid and fabulous as her designs. In this interview, Brenda shares some of her inspirations, her background and some insightful thoughts about womanhood, from Sydney to Hollywood.
LF: Why the name, Benah? What does that word represent – what does it mean to you?
It’s a really old family nickname. My older sister Lisa called me Benah, and I called her Necee.
LF: Tell us about the inspiration behind this collection – Carl Jung’s famed “Shadow” theory.
BENAH: I am always drawn to big ideas. My design process is about learning and discovering new ideas, concepts and theories for myself. It just so happens that fashion is my outlet. It all started from the idea of digital fatigue and what downtime means to different people. That led to the beach prints and the use of spots and stripes as they have become my motif for opposing archetypes. I am consistently using them in my print designs.
I was then researching different quotes and became fascinated with the work of Carl Jung. His ‘Shadow Theory’ is the idea that we all have both light and dark sides to our personalities, and this is this is purely a part of being human. He believed that those who are able to acknowledge, accept and live with all traits as a whole, as opposed to ignore and denying the negative, go onto lead more fulfilled and richer lives.
LF: SUNSHADOWS amid an Autumn / Winter season is “your ode to the differing seasonal time frame of America versus Australia.” Is it different designing for the Australian woman, versus the American?
I have found that the quintessential LA and Sydney woman are not that different. Both are very governed by the weather and as we have similar climates, we tend to dress and like very similar styles. The fact that we live in such an ‘international’ world and we have access to all the same things also drives trends and style.
I was concise of the different seasons, but still wanted to present an tightly edited collection of pieces that would fit both. Sunshadows has the best of both worlds, light and dark. Both a rich color palette of burgundy’s and navy’s, crossed with highlights of silver and bright blues. With accessories, it tends to be a bit easier crossing the seasonal barriers.
LF: What is your favorite piece from the SUNSHADOWS collection?
I am really loving the new Jute bag as it is easy, practical and looks amazing. Its the finer simple details on this bag that elevates it from being just another tote bag. Also being a mum, and the fact it has a waterproof lining, it is perfect for all my little girl’s bits and pieces.
LF: You designed an iPad case this season. Are you a techie?
In this day and age how could you not be! I love living in a world in which borders and timezones just don’t matter anymore. I am a MAC/Apple devotee and am constantly amazed by the new exciting things they come up with. I also love that many people are buying my iPad cases as an excuse to get an iPad!
LF: Tell us about your favorite handbag in your closet.
I don’t keep a favorite, it’s more about what bag suits what I’m doing today. The beauty of having a handbag line is that I do have a bag for every occasion. If I was pushed to choose it would have to be the Kodi bag, it’s timeless and it always gets compliments, which is why it has become my signature bag.
LF: What’s your background – what / who made you start designing handbags?
I have worked in fashion for a good part of 10 years, both in New Zealand and Australia, But always on the production side of things, as Production/Operations manager.
Benah is my first foray into design, which I love. I am both left and right brain, so it made sense to me to learn as much as I could about the business side of things with other people before letting myself become creative with my own endeavor.
LF: Your bio highlights a nomadic upbringing. Can you tell us a little bit about your early travels and experienced and how they affected your sense of style, and creativity?
I grew up in rural small town New Zealand, on a farm in a really small community. I have two sisters and we were just outside exploring all the time. I didn’t really have time for anything else, so TV, pop culture, even music weren’t really big influences in my early life. I was a real tom boy and we would just invent different games to play everyday – that is were my creativity came from.
As we lived in a small town we all went away to boarding school around 12 years old. I then just spent the next 10 years moving around, each time moving to a bigger city until I left New Zealand and moved to Sydney. And still went on to travel around South East Asia.
This life has made me a bit of a collector, I have many trinkets and bits and pieces from my travels. But in a strange way, it also has made me not attached to anything, and this flows into my design process. I can be so into an idea one day and design an entire collection around it, and then the next be onto something completely different. As if I’ve packed up and moved to another place. I like that I’m not precious about ideas, that I can move on. As the next idea is always something better.
LF: What’s your favorite way to wear a silk scarf?
I love a turban, how it can change an entire look and also become the focal point. But my current favorite is to layer under a blazer or jacket for a hint of color and warmth. It’s so easy and anyone can wear it without being overwhelmed.
LF: You’re in L.A. for your launch / press tour. What’s your favorite thing about this city? Something you are looking forward to on this trip?
The diversity is mind blowing. I love it. So much great art, fashion and people plus amazing weather. Its everything great in the world rolled into one
LF: How fast do you live?
Depends of the day. But even when my body is slowing down my mind still goes a million miles an hour.
The collection is available at www.thebenah.com.au as well as TENOVERSIX (L.A.), The Standard Gift Shop (L.A.) and Beautiful Dreamers (NYC).