We talk to Womenswear Accessories Design Manager, Jemma Ruddock about the inspirations, the creative process and what is next for the Reiss accessories collection

1. There’s a strong focus on the Reiss bag designs for SS17 – what inspired this new direction?

At the beginning of the SS17 planning process, our Creative Director James Spreckley had a real desire to deliver something new for the Reiss accessories collection. He aimed to deliver something with a tasteful aesthetic and a distinct point of view that cut through the noise in the current market. An honest level of quality and a timeless aesthetic was key but he wanted to ensure that the collection sat within an attainable price bracket.

James’ initial inspiration for the bags’ hardware came from authentic, nautical pieces that he re-worked and refined to work in-line with each silhouette. There’s a real sense of consideration that contributes in subtle ways to the overall elevation of the designs. Unexpected details have been underpinned with functionality. We wanted to make sure the pieces delivered in every sense of the word, ultimately presenting a series of bags that have been made using beautiful leathers and a rich, artisanal colour palette.

2. If you could summarise the aesthetic of the bag collection in 3 words what would they be?

Timeless, iconic and functional.

3. Talk to us about the aims for this season’s accessories collection…

We took a brand new approach to the bags this season with James’ tagline; crafted not manufactured’ in the forefront of our minds. A short film was curated exposing the authencity and craftsmanship behind the collection. We wanted to present our consumer with a transparent creative journey and to communicate the collaboration between the Creative Director and the design team. This is large scale project that presents a certain taste level that, with James’ close involvement and direction, will continue for seasons to come. The goal is to build a strong reputation on accessories and to create a lifestyle product with a chic sensibility, a beautiful quality and that sits at an affordable price level.

4. How did you source the leather used for each bag?

We spend a lot of time visiting tanneries and leather exhibitions in Italy in order to gather the research that enables us to source the most suitable skins for each design. We looked closely at the leather colours in their natural state, which in turn allowed the materials to influence the decisions that we made creatively. Every element of the leather is considered, from finish to durability, colour to dying process. In order to test the quality and finish, we got samples mocked up using each leather option so that we had a really accurate view of what the final piece would look like. From there, it’s was an editing and refining process until the perfect skins found companionship with the perfect style.

5. Are there any signature Reiss design features within the collection?

When it comes to hardware, we wanted to develop something unique yet purposeful that doesn’t compromise on function. The padlock, for example, is a traditional heirloom piece that we redesigned in-house so that it can move with you from with you from bag to bag. We carried out case studies to experiment with traditional fastening techniques and took inspiration from classic shackles, manipulating them and adding leather wrapping and painted edges to create something completely bespoke. Internal details are also integral and consistent throughout the collection, with neatly placed internal pockets and card holders adding a functional final touch that will service each customer. We wanted to allow for the design, shape and form of each bag to do the talking and we chose to steer away from superficial decoration and opted for a carefully placed blind embossed logo instead of over decorative and heavy branding.

6. What specialist manufacturing techniques have been used?

Every element of the manufacturing process is considered before the bags make it to the shop floor and it’s a very detailed process. All the initial patterns are mocked up to a precise specification before being re-visited in terms of design and proportion. Each style is reviewed to find a balance of multi-function versus pure necessity and great style. The hardware is designed in-house and the final touches (tack-stitch detailing and painted edges) are done by hand. It’s a combination of these attributes that makes these pieces so special.

7. What did the design process behind the collection look like?

James communicated the need to disrupt the design process with an ambition to capture the consumer’s attention. He was keen for Reiss to instigate a point of view on day bags without having to hide behind overly designed styles and loud branding. Together, we dug deep into the Reiss vintage archive and reviewed our heritage shapes, obsessing over how we could update them with newness and innovation. We worked with our iconic silhouettes to stay true to our established brand identity. Each shape was carefully considered, with proportion and detail refined at every stage of the journey.

It was in the Italian sample room where the sketches really started to come to life. We tried on, amended and reviewed every aspect of the prototype, from shape and comfortability to strap length, cut of leather to shade of stitching. This process meant that we were able to make tweaks until we were completely happy with every piece. It’s a very intricate journey.

8. What inspired the names for each of the bags families?

The Reiss brand and its global growth. The key styles are named after our flagship and most prominent global stores.

9. How do you see the bags being styled?

There’s something for every occasion within the collection and we wanted the designs to span multiple end uses so that the Reiss customer could picture them fitting into her everyday life. The shapes are at once polished and effortless so they work with both smart and casual looks, but they promise to bring that little something extra to your wardrobe. Whilst the bags are designed to be functional enough for everyday use, we hope that with time they will become cherished pieces.

10. Do you see the bag designs as being timeless or trend-focussed, or are there elements of both within the collection?

There are definitely trend-focused elements within the designs. This is particularly prominent when it comes to proportion and finish, however timelessness is always key. The right handbag is an investment piece and it should be something that you feel is special. You use it over and over again, after all. Versatility and functionality have to remain a consideration. 

11.   Which is your favourite piece and why?

Broadway is polished but it’s still really easy to use. You can throw everything in it on busy days which is perfect for me. I also love Arnott for its versatility and the unique curved zip opening which makes it really easy to use.

12.   What do you have planned for the future with regards to the Reiss accessories collection?

We want to push the creative process as far as is possible and we, as a team, are forever thinking about how best we can evolve and improve the accessories collection. We want to establish a distinctive, tasteful brand handwriting without screaming for attention with our designs. We wish to add excitement by creating emotive pieces through the use of colour, shape and form. James is challenging us to create something unique going forward. By this we mean a new functional innovation or an exploration of style that crosses boundaries in terms of its end use.

We plan to enhance our heritage archive and broaden the collection across both genders. We want to be known as being a brand with design integrity that presents affordable luxury, and we plan to build on courageous pieces that nip and the heels of more luxury brands with a definitive identity that sets us apart from anything else on the current market.