Designer Liz Thayer has worked for over a decade designing shoes and accessories for major fashion retailers in San Francisco and New York. Since 2009 she has designed and sewn outerwear, leather goods, and accessories out of her Berkeley studio under the moniker Claflin, Thayer & Co. (a homage to her great-grandfather’s boot and shoe company that had existed for close to one hundred years in downtown Manhattan before closing in the 1930s). We chat with Liz about her leather bags.
Hi Liz. We love your series of leather bags modeled on female anatomy. Which one was the first, the Lips Bag? What was your inspiration?
I started making leather bags and jackets around 2009, and the lips bag was one of my very first styles. It was inspired mostly by my good friend Jolyne, who has a distinct sultry pout and always wears red lipstick. Other inspirations were the ladies from Robert Palmer’s music videos, Dalí’s iconic Mae West lips sofa, and my shiny plastic 80’s lips telephone. I like the bags I make to have a sense of humor and wanted to create something that was both useful, luxurious, and made people smile. There are a million different bags in the world, but not very many of them have heart and soul. I’ve had people tell me the lips bags makes them smile and I think that’s because lips are such a familiar icon we all connect with. It’s fun to have an accessory that creates engagement and I love when a stranger stops to chat and ask me about my bag. It’s also fun to stuff your belongings into the bag because it feels like you’re feeding it.
“I’ve always been inspired by surrealist art, specifically the kind that makes you look at something you are already familiar with in a new way. Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and Méret Oppenheim all made work that was both familiar yet so strange when put into a different context.”
Was the next design the Eyes Bag? How did that come about?
I love collaborating with other brands to design and produce unique bags tailored to their specific markets and am currently working on growing that part of my business. I’m focusing primarily on the cosmetic industry, which is oversaturated with boring and cheap faux leather cosmetic bags. I really enjoy working with brands I admire to create functional accessories that compliment their product line, such as multi-purpose leather bags that can be used for makeup and other belongings.
A mascara company approached me with the idea of doing a bag similar to the lips that looked like an eye. Their logo incorporates eyelashes, so I experimented with some ideas on how to make eyelashes a distinct feature of the bag. I did some sketches, made a few samples, and worked through the details with their marketing team. I was really happy with how the final design turned out because it has a lot of character: the lashes get a bit curled with use over time, which makes them look like real lashes. We produced it in four different color ways of neutral metallics, which resembles the glimmering eye shadows that are trending right now. Projects like this are really fun because I get to experiment and try new things. I enjoy the artistic side of coming up with colors and concepts and the technical side of making it a real product.
By stamping GRAB BACK on them, it’s pretty clear what the Pussy Pouch is a response to. Can you tell us more?
I made a vagina-inspired coin purse a few years back just to be silly and because I always like playing with the idea of a bag as something with an identity. People feel so passionate about sexual identity, and I liked that a simple little coin purse could acknowledge something as big as gender identity. I styled a few photos of it stuffed with tampons and birth control because that was the obvious choice of props, right? Then the elections happened, and after the initial shock wore off, people got pissed. I loved seeing that anger turn to creativity at the women’s marches – the range of signage, banners, pins, hats, and costumes people made to show their support was awesome, and largely humorous. Sometimes, all you can really do is laugh, and then move forward. I pulled the vagina coin purse back out and made a new pattern. I’d bought a peach-colored suede at some point that I never used because I decided it was too…fleshy. The metallic rose gold leather and peach suede make a great combo – soft, a bit wrinkly – and really personify the real thing, with something exciting on the inside, too! The Grab Back stamp on the bag interior is just a reminder, in case you lose motivation or forget your mission.
What designers or artists are you inspired by whose work make powerful statements about gender identity or politics?
I’ve always been inspired by surrealist art, specifically the kind that makes you look at something you are already familiar with in a new way. Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and Méret Oppenheim all made work that was both familiar yet so strange when put into a different context. I love that – sometimes it’s good to shake your world up a bit and see things differently. If I can bring a just a hint of that into everything I do, then I will be happy.
“I am merely a designer, not a corporation, lawyer, or politician, but I think you can incorporate social change or awareness into whatever work you do.”
Any more plans for design statements about identity or politics in the future?
I hope so! Working in fashion can feel so shallow at times, and I feel a responsibility to make a social impact in even a small way with what I do. So many companies, both large and small, donate portions of their proceeds to causes they believe in, which I think is great. I’d love to continue to offer a select style inspired by whatever current affair enrages or interests me, and then donate portions of sales to relevant organizations. I am merely a designer, not a corporation, lawyer, or politician, but I think you can incorporate social change or awareness into whatever work you do. I feel grateful to be part of a generation that thrives on doing it yourself and getting it done and I’m excited for what’s to come in the future.