Laura Whiteford, the head of bespoke leather for the British luxury goods company Asprey, talks about her life and inspiration in fashion.
'I think handbags now should be brightly coloured'
Laura Whiteford, the head of bespoke leather for the British luxury goods company Asprey, talks about her life and inspiration in fashion. When I was growing up, I remember playing around with my mother's handbags and having some of my own. My mother's style was very traditional, although I did try to break out a little bit later on when I developed my own approach. She dressed me in pretty dresses and I was very girly, very frilly - something that I think goes with handbags. I don't really remember rebelling much as a teenager and I think my style today is quite classic and not too adventurous.
Probably my earliest memory of bags is playing with my mother's Gucci ones. I remember the white and red trim and I remember her going out with that. I only became more conscious of leather bags when I worked at Asprey. I have to say that no one has ever bought me a handbag - given my job, I don't think they'd dare! I can't say I was passionate about leather before, but when I joined Asprey I really got into it: the smell, the unusual designs, the products and the exotic types of leather.
The way I got involved in the company was my mother's doing. I had studied business and finance and done a very brief spell running a sunbed shop, which I'm glad I got out of. My mother used to work in Fenwick, a British department store just across the road from this fabulous shop called Asprey, and she said to me: "Oh, you've got to try in there for a job." She made a telephone call and I spoke to a Mr Philcot, who was the manager of the store at the time. He interviewed me and I got the job then and there, with a choice between the leather and silver departments - no contest. I started work as a junior sales person in the leather department.
The shop in New Bond Street consists of a pair of Georgian buildings linked by a lovely glass roof. It is a beautiful store and it is wonderful to work there. I like to shop in the high street - there's so much choice, and if you're very clever and tie it in with a good bag then you can create a stylish, classy look. A favourite store of mine is Zara. I love the designs there. I do love shopping, but I don't shop for handbags. I like to see the styles in the other stores, but that is mainly comparison shopping to check that we're right in the market and our design, pricing and service are still the best.
I have a family now, so shopping for myself doesn't happen as frequently. I work two days a week in New Bond Street and during the rest of the week I work on bespoke pieces, using the internet and my BlackBerry to stay in touch with manufacturers, so I can be contacted morning and night. My clients call me at weekends and evenings, but that's part of the job. I've always enjoyed handbags as a fashion accessory and my first "proper" one was an Asprey bag from the company when I started. We were given bags then, but sadly not so much now, as it is a much bigger company. The shape wasn't too dissimilar to what we produce now. It had fittings on the side and when you lifted it up, it opened from the middle. I still have it, but it's in the wardrobe and I don't use it much any more, perhaps because it's black and I think handbags now should be brightly coloured.
I love working with the company's workshops and seeing the way the bag has evolved over the years. We've had more and more interest in exotic leather: alligator, crocodile, ostrich and shark. Bold colours are very popular in the Middle East, with silver and gold fittings and even mixing the two. Clients tell us what they want and we can create visuals for them via e-mail or even making up a bag in cardboard so they can see it.
Our motto is: "It can be done." I've had a few bits made for myself - passport covers, key cases, gifts. I don't abuse it though. The workshop once made an alligator-leather Monopoly board for a client with the pieces in gold and diamonds; the car was a model of his own. I own around 12 handbags, lovely Asprey ones all of them. I don't really use other designers; I suppose once you've had an Asprey bag, there's no other like it.
One of my favourites is a vintage, frame-style bag that was inspired by an example the company produced in the 1920s. The panelling on the front was originally tortoiseshell and there is gilt metal patterning. It is very special to me because I have seen the original in our archives.