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The versatile clutch by Amanda Navai

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Ever wondered where you could score that timeless, versatile clutch? That mythical piece of accessory that you could take from dawn to the wee hours of the night without committing sartorial suicide? We trolled Saks Fifth Avenue a few weeks back and you’ll be delighted to know that we may have finally found it.

On the second floor of the luxury department store at BurJuman, there sits a shelf of brightly-tinted python clutches, hobos, bucket and shoulder bags, bearing tags that read Amanda Navai. They all looked pretty stylish, but what really caught our attention was the reversible, two-sided arm candy that was designed with modern practicality and timeless versatility in mind.

That was the moment. We had discovered the holy grail of styling, and we weren’t going home without knowing who’s behind it. We met Amanda Navaian, the designer behind the themed collection of chromatic snakeskin accessories, at the launch of her newest line at Saks, where she explained the beginnings of her career in fashion, the allure of 50-year-old python skin, and her future plans for the Amanda Navai brand.

Tell us a bit about your background.

I studied international relations and politics but I’ve always had a love for fashion and design, especially shoes and handbags. After completing university, I started working for Jimmy Choo. I came to Dubai on holiday at first, and then shortly afterwards began working with the Chalhoub Group, where I wasn’t part of the fashion department but of the cosmetics division.

I’ve always seen myself as an entrepreneur so I wanted to establish my own company, but I didn’t know what I was going to do initially. My idea of starting a business is that you have to present something unique, something that’s never been done before. But in actuality, you don’t have to come up something new. You can take something that you know already and improve the service or the product. Make it more attractive to the consumers. This is how I got started with the reversible handbag.

With one handbag, you get two different colours, both sides of which are made of python. The chains are also interchangeable, so if gold bids the trends goodbye and silver comes back, you can still use the same handbag by switching to the chain which is fashionable at the moment, or that which is more appropriate to your daily outfit. This is how I took something that’s already out there and improved it to make it more appealing to customers.

Also, my background in cosmetics is translated into my designs where you can see a great play with colours.

You work exclusively with python for your handbags. Why?

I like things that are different, things that stand out, and python is one of those few things that draw people’s attention. Python is still considered a luxurious, exotic skin in the handbag and accessories market. There’s lots of different types of leather out there, but not python. The use of python has always been associated with a certain type of people because it’s expensive; not a lot of people can afford python.

Now, I wanted to create designs that are simple, classic, and affordable. They’re not cheap, starting from AED 2,000 and going up to AED 8,000, but still highly attainable if you save for a few months, and when compared to other designers’ wares that are sold at much higher price points. The materials I use are of the highest quality and all of my bags are handmade.

Do you think you’re sticking with python for the long-haul, or would you do ostrich and other exotic skins in the future?

I’ll definitely keep using python for my products, but I would also love to work on ostrich and crocodile skin. I’ll probably limit my choices to the available range of exotic skins.

What is a versatile clutch?

A versatile clutch is something that you can wear day and night. The reversible handbag that we have here is usually offered in a pair of colours for that purpose – one side you can wear during the day, and the other during the evening.

One side is a subdued hue in matte python, while the other is a shiny bold shade. The overall idea that we wanted to achieve is make something that you wear anywhere – to a party, to brunch, the possibilities are endless.

Colours aside, the chain is both removable and interchangeable. You can wear it as a clutch or as a shoulder bag. You can even use the chain as an accessory.

Is python worth investing in? Does it stand the test of time?

Definitely. It gets better with every use. It becomes softer and acquires a beautiful vintage look. I used to shop a lot of python bags at the Portobello Market in London, and I’ve found bags there from the 50s and 60s. Vintage python looks even better because all those lines and stripes become more pronounced over time, which give the skin a richer aesthetic.

Who are you targetting with your collections?

I don’t really put people in boxes, so I wouldn’t say my designs are for a specific type of woman belonging to a certain age group. My handbags could appeal to anyone from 17 to 70. Right now, even 65-year-olds wear really colourful things, so age doesn’t really play that much of a role in terms of fashion choices.

I think it’s for someone who is fun-loving, a bit daring and ready to stand out from the crowd. I don’t really create handbags that go with the trends. I want timeless pieces that women can keep using for the next 20 or 30 years. If someone is going to spend say AED 4,000 on a bag, they’d like to be able to use it for a long time and be something that they take from their teenage years through to their 30s or 40s.

Where do you source your materials?

I get python skin from Indonesia which is the world’s biggest python exporter. I handpick and put together all the materials. The chains, the lining, the zippers – they’re all from different places. And they are brought together and handmade in Lebanon.

In the UAE, your bags are available at Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s and Etoile. Where else in the region can customers find them?

They’re also available in Bahrain and Kuwait, and soon in Jeddah through Etoile. We’ll also be stocked at Harvey Nichols in London.

Where do you want to eventually take your brand?

I’m developing shoes and jewellery now, but what I would like to do is offer bespoke products, special pieces where customers can come to me and ask me to design and create things for them – boots, jackets, and trousers in python.

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