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What’s the big deal about handbags?

Monica Zwirner and Lucy Wallace Eustice, the founders of MZ Wallace, were in their offices on Crosby Street in SoHo recently. On the table in front of them lay fabric swatches and samples for an upcoming collection. But the pair had turned their attention to a look book they had produced over a decade ago.

“I’m scared to look,” Zwirner, 60, said. “This is so old.”

Wallace Eustice, 57, opened to a photograph of a shoulder bag.

“That’s good,” she said cautiously. She turned the page to look at another picture of a purse. “And that’s ... fine.”

“That’s not bad,” Zwirner admitted. She quickly flipped through the rest and seemed relieved. “This actually feels good, to revisit something you made so long ago and realise it still looks OK.”


MZ Wallace — the moniker is a combination of Zwirner’s initials and Wallace Eustice’s maiden name — is a 22-year-old handbag and accessories line that makes utilitarian, no-nonsense shoulder bags, totes, duffels, backpacks and other carryalls out of sustainable nylon fabrics.

The brand is not a household name. It does not possess a bold, easily identifiable logo or colour scheme like Chanel’s interlocking C’s or the Gucci stripe. It does not advertise in fashion magazines. It has avoided famous endorsements and flashy marketing campaigns.

But it has nonetheless achieved a cult status among stylish urbanites and a long list of celebrities that includes Jane Fonda, Jennifer Garner, Anne Hathaway, Blake Lively, Sienna Miller, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, Sarah Jessica Parker, Reese Witherspoon and Renée Zellweger.

In August MZ Wallace opened a flagship store just across from the offices on Crosby Street, designed by Charlap Hyman & Herrero, an architecture and design firm. The 1,900-square-foot space is blanketed with carpets, curtains and wallpaper decorated in an oversize trompe l’oeil marble print, inspired by Gio Ponti’s marbled rubber floors in the Pirelli Tower in Milan. Its southernmost wall is hung with artwork by Wolfgang Tillmans and Christopher Williams. Metallic pedestals by artist Shun Kinoshita dot the display floor alongside beige Mario Bellini chairs.

A second store in Chicago — where the brand has a similarly strong customer base — opened at the same time.


Call it a high-low vibe. The brand owes its longevity and success to its clever ability to marry practical design with luxury details. MZ Wallace’s most popular style of fabric, a quilted puff nylon, serves as a discreet brand emblem, as does a small diamond made of Italian leather sewn on each product’s bottom gusset.

The proportions of each bag are intuitively functional: A large, roomy tote slides perfectly on top of a carry-on suitcase; a slender cross-body bag can comfortably fit your wallet, passport, keys and phone. Certain features reveal a thoughtful functionalism, such as the clips on an 18-pocket backpack that allow it to fasten to a stroller.

Their bags also come with Italian leather trimmings and silver hardware. Some are decorated with a bit of playful fringe, a fashionable chain or pretty leather-wrapped straps. And while black is an ever-popular customer colour choice, each season a new collection arrives in a variety of bright, bold hues and patterns — a peony pink here, a muted sapphire blue there — all at relatively reasonable prices.

“Not that we have anything against expensive bags,” Wallace Eustice said. “MZ Wallace is either your first bag or your second bag. Some women like to have a more traditional designer bag and just use us as their travelling tote or weekend bag.”

“We wanted to create bags that help you be — it sounds a bit cheesy — a better you,” Zwirner added. “The bag’s not wearing you. And it can help you get through your day, whatever kind of day you’re having and whatever type of person you are.” — NYT

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