Joel Storella "Black Ops" Backpack
Joel Storella Handbags
The New Luxury: The Discreet $11,000 Backpack
Joel Storella "Black Ops" Backpack
Here’s an example of how the world of luxury has changed since labels and logos were the ne plus ultra of luxury: Rather than buying brand-name bags or recognizable $20,000 Birkins, the ultra wealthy are choosing to have one-off items made entirely by hand via artisans who work in small studios or even at home, and who sign their handiwork discreetly, if they sign it at all.
To wit: Joel Storella worked as a style consultant at Hermès for seven years before he left the company in 2010 to start his own business making five- and six-figure leather cases, bags and trunks, and servicing a cadre of clients that would make any Barneys sales manager salivate.
He says it’s the best decision he ever made.
“I was tired of not having a personal connection to the things I made and the people who ordered them,” Storella told me the other day at Forbes. He was showing off a strikingly simple Black Ops backpack sewn from black python and supple calf leather. It took 80 hours and nearly 5,000 stitches—stitched literally by hand, not by sewing machine—to make. “I wanted to make things that would embody a single person’s vision.”
Storella lives in Boston—he sews the bags in a studio using traditional saddlrey tools—and personally delivers them to the people who ordered them. It’s the least he can do, since women’s bags in alligator or crocodile start at $25,000.
The projects are so time-consuming that Storella has capacity to make only 10 or 12 a year, depending on the detail involved; he’s currently making a large trunk covered in pure alligator skin that he personally picked out from a farm in Georgia. He declined to say who it’s for, but I could see something like it fitting perfectly into the travel retinue of Pharrell, say, or Rihanna.
All this to say that Storella has caught on to a neo-luxury wave that I believe will continue to gain strength over the next few years. I like his backpack in particular because it looks completely clean and minimal on the outside but has several key pockets and a hidden pouch inside that make it as functional as it is fashionable. (Ask any luxury purveyor today—from Bentley to Burberry to Breguet—and they’ll tell you that people are willing to spend plenty of money as long as they believe the product has real value and some redeeming sense of practicality, however small.)
Storella signed his name on the bottom interior of the bag, leaving nothing on it otherwise to alert viewers who made it—this too adheres to the new-luxe idea that you’ve got to be in the club to know what you’re looking at (see also: obscure watches, rare cars, vintage wine, emerging art).
“I would talk with ladies who were embarrassed to bring their $30,000 bag to the nail salon because everyone recognized the label and know how much it cost,” Storella explained. That’s why he wants to keep the work understated, even if his unique trunks cost upwards of $100,000. “My bags are meant to be creations of pride so people can use them anywhere without feeling like everyone knows what they’re carrying.”
Call it low-key luxury. And expect to see—or not see, as it were—plenty more of it this year.
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