2012 December 19
Designer Khirma Eliazov Talks Exotic Skins, West Village Haunts, and Bergdorf Dreams
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(NEW YORK) Brace yourself for your next handbag infatuation: if you haven't stumbled upon Khirma Eliazov's sumptuous, vintage-inflected amalgams of one exotic skin after another, let the obsessing begin. (Your Daily's been deep in lust for awhile now!) Eliazov's law school plans shifted when she got into the fashion fold, freelance styling and providing accessories editor prowess for pubs like Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country before launching her namesake line of carryable delectables in 2008. This year, she checked an item off her career bucket list (it involves Bergdorf's), and last month, Eliazov unveiled her debut standalone boutique on a quaint West Village stretch. Better get ahold of some Eliazov-designed stingray action ASAP; in the meantime, check out her full backstory below...
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
How did you hit the luxe bag scene?
I actually don’t even come from a design background—I studied criminal justice and speech communication in college and I thought I was on my way to law school, but fell in love with fashion so I went in that direction instead. I was that kid who would tell my mom that her outfit didn’t match.
Does your criminal law education mean you dig, say, Law & Order?
I guess I do! But I don’t really watch that much TV in general; I DVR some shows but that’s it.
Back to your bag biz: How did 2012 treat you?
It’s been amazing—we went from being carried in 15 stores last year, to close to 60 stores this year. We also went international this year. The response internationally has been really great, and sales have been phenomenal. We just had our first billboard in Russia, too. The Middle East has been really supportive; Japan recently picked us up as well.
That’s a lot of action! What was the biggest coup of the year?
I’ve wanted to be [sold] in Bergdorf’s since I put out my first collection. I just wasn’t ready then—and I didn’t even know I wasn’t ready. I look back now and I’m so glad those bags I put out four years ago weren’t at Bergdorf’s! The quality wasn’t nearly on the level that it is now. We’ve spent time getting the product to a place where it’s impeccable—where it belongs on the selling floor of Bergdorf Goodman.
You’ve got some wildly, well, wild materials in the mix.
We started with stingray—as the collection has grown, I’ve been combining different skins and textures. We did python with stingray; we’ve done alligator with lizard.
Do you have a favorite exotic skin to work with?
That’s like asking me if I have a favorite child!
How did your West Village boutique come about?
It’s always been my dream to have my own store. I’ve lived in New York since I graduated from college and the West Village is my favorite part of the city. The front of the space is the store, and behind that is our office and workshop. I totally live there! I also carry a number of other great designers, too.
What are your local haunts?
I love August: they make these amazing brick oven pizzas. Red Farm is really great, and so is Hudson Clearwater.
What’s the most useful business advice you’ve received?
That it’s really important to grow organically; it’s so difficult when you’re so excited about what you are doing not to go out and do everything at once! It takes time to really focus on what you’re good at and to grow that organically. There is always that line: are you growing too fast or too slow?
An example, please!
This year, we did these leather bracelets in collaboration with Swarovski. Everyone liked them, so then we started doing small leather goods. Now, we’re going to be pushing more small leather goods, like belts, as a result.
What else has been key to your success thus far?
It’s really about branding your product: my bags are very detail oriented. Ideally, if I’ve done my job right, you can see my bag from across a room and think, “Oh, that’s a Khirma bag.”
Do you have any mentors deserving of a shout out or two?
I’ve had some amazing mentors along the way. They like their exclusivity; I think they want to stay below the radar. I, more than anyone, want to give them a shout out, though! Some are editors, since I came from the magazine editorial world. I also have had great mentors in finance. Some of my friends are editors or buyers, and I’ll have them go through all of my samples. They might say, “I love this bag, but I wish it had a pocket.” It’s about being open to suggestions.
What kind of input has proven most surprising?
One of my friends is an editor at a bridal magazine—she looked at one of my samples and told me it was a perfect bridesmaid bag if I just made it in a particular color.
How big is your team at the moment?
Right now I've got eight people. That's crazy to me because I started with one person—me!—just a few years ago. It’s weird to look around and see a team of other people here.
Do you ever wear or buy carryables by other designers?
To be honest, I have to always wear my handbags because you never know who you’re going to meet. It’s so sad because I have this whole archive of amazing bags, damn it!
How do you name your bags?
All of my bags are named different friends of mine.
Are all of your friends clamoring to have namesake Khirma bags?
Everyone has been asking me when they’re getting a bag named after them. My mom was like, “Listen, I gave birth to you—when does my bag come out?”
What’s the 2013 frontier for all things Khirma Eliazov?
I think our next step will be shoes. But it’s so hard not to want to do everything. I want to grow the distribution and get the name out there more. It’s going to be a year for marketing!
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