Started out as a model, now the mastermind behind online accessories store Clutch That Bag, Shana Azahari, tells us the inside scoop about her brand, which will soon be replaced by her refurbished up and coming Azooi.
It all started one day when Shana decided to turn her own clutch bag into a canvas. Shana had only painted six bags when it caught the attention of the public, which then encouraged her to turn the hobby into a career path. Shana’s handmade creations have since been featured on top Malaysian magazines, including Harper’s Bazaar, Glam and The Edge.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I wrote my first (unimpressive) poem when I was about six or seven, then spent all my childhood and my teenage years thinking I could become a writer. Then college came around, and I found art.
I studied Philosophy and Economics in UCL, London and thought I would be an economist that would moonlight as a novelist under a clever pseudonym, but by the time I graduated I was more inclined towards philosophy than economics.
I returned to Malaysia ever the confused graduate, so I tried to find something to do while I figured it all out. I got involved a tiny tech start-up that failed, re-wrote a book I wrote, loathed and binned for the thousandth time, then I met Adrian Chee who taught me to walk a little less clumsily, and became a model. Under his mentorship, I did shows for Tiffany&Co, Moschino, Chanel, Bvlgari and other wonderful brands.
And so the influences of fashion and art fused into my work with my bags. I have since quit modelling.
What made you interest in fashion? How did the transition between philosophy and economics to fashion happen?
I’d been doing ads since I was 15, so moving on to fashion wasn’t too hard. I had the height; I just needed to learn to smile less.
What inspired you to start up your own online store? Tell us a bit about how Clutch the Bag came to be.
Well most aspire to owning their own business, and I caught that bug early on. I actually wanted to just start an online store to re-sell bags – nothing fancy – but I couldn’t bring myself to resell the boring run of the mill items that were readily available. Everyone was doing it; it wouldn’t be a good business decision.
So I looked at the brands I liked and found inspiration in their art. Bags from brands like McQueen, Marchesa, Olympia Le Tan and Charlotte Olympia, all had one thing in common – they paid attention to the visual details that served well aesthetically as individual components and as a whole accessory. So I did what I knew how to do – I painted.
Did you encounter any difficulties with starting up your store and getting it out there?
Well, you will always have problems, and you never stop overcoming them. I started with a marketplace and two in-house brands; Azooi and Clutch That Bag, and I curated heritage bags that were traditionally-made and/or made of natural materials.
I found that while sometimes people like the other stuff I was offering on clutchthatbag.com, my Azooi bags outshone the rest leading to my decision to refocus and launch my label Azooi, which focuses solely on our handmade art bags.
I guess how you overcome any difficulty is by making a decision, bad or good. And you have to realise that sometimes you’ll make the wrong choice, but that’s no reason to not make the next one. Action is always a better medicine than inaction.
What made you want to focus on making bags and accessories, as opposed to clothing and shoes?
I like clothes and I love shoes, but it’s bags that really captivate me. It really is the piece that brings the whole outfit together, so I personally pay more attention to bags.
Describe the ideal Clutch That Bag girl:
Someone who’s young at heart and playful, but wise enough to appreciate the finer details.
What would you say is your general aesthetic?
We go for more basic shapes, but dress it up with details. As we strive to work with more artists and art styles, we can’t really pin down the look of these details.
Where do you mainly draw inspiration for your designs?
Art pieces – paintings, art installations and jewellery.
Who’s your celebrity inspiration?
If I had to pick someone, it’d be Daphne Guinness. I like her theatrics. She dresses like she’s walking off a stage and yet, doesn’t try to draw too much attention to herself. She’s ornamental, but never gaudy. I like that.
What’s your favourite piece that you’ve made so far?
This custom piece I did with a painted jungle scene. I drew a lot of inspiration from Rousseau, so there was something innocent about the way the jungle scene was painted. It was one of my favourite paintings I had done and the clutch as a whole, was as beautiful as I had hoped all my bags to be. I would say that that bag set the standard.
Describe your creative process.
I find something I like looking at, then I imagine it on a bag. I usually do a rough sketch and come up with the colours. Then I get down to making it.
What does 2014 hold for Clutch That Bag?
During KLFW, we’ll be holding our final sale of Clutchthatbag.com items in Lot 10 during its pop-up store event and we’ll also be showcasing our new range of painted or embellished clutches freshly launching itself as Azooi.
If you could do a collaboration with any celebrity, who would it be and why?
Damien Hirst. I may not always love his pieces as straight-up art pieces, but his work is fashionable, and that’s something that is quite special.
For more Shana and her designs, watch this space.
Image credit: courtesy of Shana