PlayPurse Feature & Interview

Originally published 22nd January, 2017

In an overflowing consumer market full-to-the-brim with facsimile designer bags - often produced en masse with no trace of real craftsmanship involved - a technicoloured palette cleanser shunning all stereotypes of a 21st century "IT" bag is readily embraced. Glossy leather exteriors and gold-encased brand names - once prerequisites for any sought-after handbag - have been cast aside in favour of eye-catching embellishments and playful pops of colour; each beautifully hand-crafted piece finished off with a seasonless, anti-fad guarantee. And the trailblazer pioneering this refreshing shift in the minds of accessory aficionados? Georgia Vaux, a multi-faceted graphic & accessories designer whose London-based label PlayPurse strikes a seamless balance between nostalgia and modernity. Characterised by candy-coloured adornments and tactile fabrics, the eponymous bag was first given life as a beaded toy purse in the 1970s - its starring role destined for the dress-up boxes of children's bedrooms. With their popular status dwindling as years went on, Vaux resolved to create a modern-day version especially for grown-ups. Following countless hours of product research and colour/texture experimenting, the finished design was unveiled to international acclaim: re-capturing the hearts of customers who had witnessed the rise of the first toy purses, whilst bewitching an entirely new fanbase in the process.

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First putting down roots as a whimsical offshoot of Vaux's ever-evolving creative project Item No., her mission to revive the colourful play purses went into full throttle upon realisation that these beloved toy accessories were rapidly nearing extinction. The brand's creative journey, as a result, draws noteworthy parallels with that of Moleskine and Blackwing: their leather journals and elegant pencils (respectively) indispensable in the writing arsenals of countless artistic innovators, yet both suffering a similar fate of ceased production and, decades on, contemporary rebirth. Akin to these long-beloved items, the origins of PlayPurse may be fondly recalled, but make no mistake: these hand-crafted designs are firmly rooted in the present day. Whether you like your ensembles all-black with a serious colour contrast or as a millefeuille of punchy hues, these eye-popping purses make for an effortless but highly impactful wardrobe addition. Ahead of PlayPurse's highly-anticipated SS17 launch, I spoke with Vaux regarding her wildly-popular beaded bags, her meticulous, artisanal approach to design and her long-standing love affair with the original toy purse:

What first inspired you to set up Play Purse? Were you a childhood fan of the original toy-purse incarnation?

Yes I was absolutely a fan of the original toy purse when I was a girl, but I think I didn’t realise how much until you couldn’t get them anymore. I had kept a few from when I was little and as a graphic designer and accessories designer always appreciated the colour, pattern and texture.

I thought it would be cool to have a bigger grown up version, just the same, but bigger. So I started to do some research and found that you couldn’t even buy the toy purses new anymore, just vintage ones on eBay and Etsy. I wanted to find new ones so that I could perhaps find the details of where they were manufactured but couldn’t find them anywhere, I think they stopped manufacturing them about 20 years ago. I had to start from scratch sourcing the fabrics and getting moulds made for the beads. It took 2 years of development until they looked like the originals. 

What does your creative process entail (from material selection to inspiration sourcing)?

I have a large box full of the original beaded toy purses from all around the world, which took years to accumulate. So far, the designing process has been about replicating the details as accurately as I could and scaling up the designs and bead patterns, sourcing similar fabrics. But now I am enjoying taking these original designs a step further, making them more user-friendly, experimenting with more sturdy fabrics to make them more grown up.

In what way does Play Purse’s origins tie in with your design studio project Item No ( and how do you imagine the latter to continue evolving? 

I had been working on a series of designs, an ongoing project called Item No. Each item titled with a consecutive number (Play Purse was Item No. 5), all the designs, although unrelated, have a playful twist. This was when I started on the Play Purse journey. Initially I had designed purses with a Trompe L’oeil print of the beaded patterns but became more and more intrigued with the purses origins and fabrication. The time it took to develop the purses resulted in a total distraction from this original project. I constantly have ideas for further Item Nos. but they are on the back burner for the moment.

Who would you list as your dream collaborators for a Play Purse collection/project? 

Funnily enough I don’t see Play Purse as a retro kitsch accessory and although the origin of the designs have a lot to do with nostalgia, I very much see them as a contemporary object.

So I would love to do a collaboration that highlighted a more contemporary vibe, Colette in Paris would definitely be up there in the dream stakes! Or maybe Opening Ceremony!  

In which ways do you hope your designs will resonate with consumers - both for those previously acquainted with the beaded coin purses from decades past, and those discovering their existence for the first time? 

The only people I have met so far who don’t remember the original toy purses are from Switzerland and Germany, I think they had lovely wooden toys when a lot of the world at that time was importing from Hong Kong. Play Purses really do bring a playful edge to an outfit and they are fun to wear, that’s what I am hoping for anyway.

Would you ever consider branching out to garment design/stationary/creating additional objects using the signature Play Purse fabric?

There is a pencil case in the pipe line, and I did cover a book in Play Purse beaded fabric which went down very well on Instagram, but no, I think there would be too many comfort issues for a clothing range. 

What contemporary design collections are you currently most fond of?

My most favourite ever collection was the 1995 Doll’s Wardrobe collection by Martin Margiela where all the details and disproportions of doll’s clothes were enlarged so poppers and buttons became enormous and stitching and knitting gauges were oversized. I also loved his Replica series, I think both of these collections would have been great fun to work on. More recently though I have loved what Alessandro Michele has done for Gucci – making vintage brilliantly contemporary. I’m definitely drawn to designs that are playful and have a strong attention to detail.

What can expect to see next from Play Purse? 

There is a cross body shoulder bag coming for spring, and denim and canvas fabrics, we are showing at Maison&Objet in Paris (in January), maybe Colette will come and visit the stand!

Featured: PlayPurse gift sets in Maxi Blue Corduroy, Maxi Pink Corduroy and Black Lurex Cat

PlayPurse is exhibiting at international trade fair Maison&Objet, Paris, until Tuesday 24th January - keep up-to-date with any collection sneak peaks on the label's vibrant Instagram page, while clicking "here" will whisk you away to the PlayPurse website and fully-stocked e-boutique. Race you to the checkout!

Amelia xx

La Femme Éclectique