COURTESY MARY FRANCES
Mary Frances transferred her love of jewelry making to handbags, as shown in this colorful "Rock Garden" design. Her purses range from $110 to $290. CLICK FOR LARGE
In a minimalist decade of the '90s and into the early '00s, handbag designer Mary Frances made no apologies for her love of ornamentation and multiple layers of color, texture, fabrications and embellishments of beads, lace and gemstones.
A free-spirited child of Berkeley, Calif., she's never been a follower, and that independent streak has worked well for her in life as well as business. In coming up with her designs, she said by phone from her Bay Area studio, "I absorb what the culture says, as well as what the trends and what fashion is saying, but ultimately I translate it my own way. Sometimes the trends are over the top, and if it's too hard to fit into that, I don't even try. If I did, I don't think it would be me. I have a unique look and I have a place.
MEET MARY FRANCES
View her spring collection and preview her Summer 2007 collection of handbags and accessories, and have your pieces autographed:
» Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
» Place: Sandal Tree, Ala Moana Center
» Call: 957-0300
"I've always loved embellishment," she said. "It's always been a part of me. I've always been attracted to things that are 3-D and have more texture, as opposed to a sleek, modern purse."
Now it looks as if the fashion world is heading her way, but the designer is already ahead of the pack, having been named Accessory Designer of the Year in the 2004 Dallas Fashion Awards, and with a fan base that includes Hollywood celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Simpson, Teri Hatcher, Eva Longoria, Shania Twain and Kate Hudson, to name a few.
The attraction isn't hard to understand. The stars need to make dramatic entrances, and beyond the practicality of holding a compact and lipstick, Mary Frances' evening bags are as striking as a piece of jewelry.
"That's how I got started," she said. "I had a business making costume jewelry, really big pieces, necklaces, bracelets, belts and brooches. I just moved that onto handbags, which gave me a bigger canvas for embellishment."
Her handmade designs, which each take two to three days to make, are prized by those who eagerly await the start of each new season for another Mary Frances limited-edition purse to add to their collections. She's heard of collectors who own 50 of her purses.
Although she designs with her biggest fans in mind, she doesn't dwell on that single segment of her business.
"The limited-edition collectible and very beaded bags made for parties are just one aspect. I also have day purses. In a year, I'll usually come up with 250 new designs, and in this industry that's crazy. But it's also what keeps my line so alive, so vibrant."
Although she lived in Kaimuki briefly and attended Honolulu Community College before starting her business in 1990, she moved away for love and hasn't been back since. She's looking forward to returning and meeting fans in the islands.
"Places like Hawaii are lovely places for me. It has such a relaxed, feel-good ambience, and a Mary Frances handbag is a feel-good thing."
COURTESY MARY FRANCES
Paris Hilton carries a Mary Frances evening bag.