In my job I am lucky enough to get to travel a lot. I am always inspired by my trips and love to visit vintage shops whenever I’m away for business. It’s often in these places that you find inspiration. For example, we have a great structured handbag in three different sizes called the Florence Frame bag. It owes its existence to one I found in a little vintage store in Florence, where there was this old handbag with an incredible opening mechanism. The Florence Frame Bag is one of my favourites from our collection – and every time I see it I remember that little shop in Italy.
As a businesswoman, I always look for timeless pieces to enhance my personal wardrobe, and that’s exactly what we at Aspinal strive to create. It’s not about being really fashionable, though it’s important to be contemporary, but more about having elegance and style that is not so tied to what is or isn’t trendy.
This sort of timeless, stylish look is perfect for the workplace. But the challenge is that you may be expected to look smart and professional during the day, but then have to go out and socialise straight from the office. I have a few little tricks when it comes to going from the office to after-work social and networking events: one of my wardrobe staples is a large handbag in which I can fit everything I need while running from meeting to meeting day-to-day, something like the Aspinal Large Florence Frame bag or the Midi or Large Marylebone Tech tote. (The latter has a battery pack inside from which you can charge your phone.) But as I generally don’t have time to stop home before social events I like to carry one of Aspinal’s Essential Pouches in my bag, so I can easily leave my big work bag at the office, grab my pouch with everything I need for the evening and go.
I really love fashion and dressing up for different occasions, and always have. Growing up in my hometown of Lviv in the Ukraine, I would always take care to look my best. The city itself was lucky enough not to be hit in World War II, so there remains a lot of beautiful old architecture. However, with a myriad of universities, the city also has a very young feel to it, and is almost like a lively little Paris.
When I was younger, I went to design college for three years, and then spent a year in a factory, adding pattern cutting to my skill set. After this year of work, I was able to attend the Lviv National Academy for Art & Design, in which I gained my masters and although the focus was on apparel, I gained experience in accessories such as shoes and handbags. In my masters presentation, I worked a lot with leather, which gave me a great foundation in designing with the material. As my education took a long time, I also worked on the side, creating clothing for private clients to help support my parents, and had a great time entering different competitions along the way.
Once my studies were over, I decided my next move should be to come to England and to learn English as a Foreign Language. I enrolled in Chichester College for a year, and while I was living there, I happened to see a job post in a local newspaper for Aspinal of London, who were at the time looking for a design intern. That’s how I was first introduced to the brand that would shape my career. I moved up in the ranks and became a designer, and my first design was actually a leather phone case for Nokia.
At the time, Aspinal of London had really focused on its stationery, as per the brand’s history in creating beautiful leather books for museums. However, we then introduced small leather goods and, over time, travel and stationery accessories. The brand’s aesthetic is deeply rooted in the concept of Englishness, which I think comes from its background working with museums. However, the company has evolved since I started, becoming more of a balance between a beautiful, traditional English aesthetic and the quirkiness and playfulness of contemporary London.
People often ask me for advice on how to style things, and I do think it’s very important to present yourself well in business. I love to wear different types of clothing, but the one thing I think every businesswoman should own is a really well-fitting suit jacket. And this is also where your accessories come into play, because with simple, black or navy well-fitted work wear, adding a high-quality bag with standout hardware, or extra touches such as eye-catching jewellery, can really make a difference.
There are a lot of women who get this elegant, professional look just right. On the more fashionable side, Victoria Beckham is always well put-together, and so, in a more classic vein, is Kate Middleton, who I’m so excited to say was recently spotted carrying my first handbag design, Aspinal’s Mayfair bag. Another of my favourites is my mother, who worked all her life and did such an amazing job in raising us children and always looked beautifully turned out. Indeed, whether it’s businesswomen or stay-at-home mums, I constantly find myself in awe of the women I meet and am so happy that, through being creative director at Aspinal of London, I can design pieces that can make women from all walks of life feel fantastic.