A St. Louisan at heart, Marjorie Handelman is leaving her footprint on the fashion industry as president of New York-based Alexandra Clancy. The luxury accessories brand is known for its minimal statement pieces loved by the modern woman.
Gazelle: Where did you go to high school?
Handelman: The famous St Louis question! I went to Parkway Central.
Gazelle: What are three things you miss most about living in St. Louis?
Handelman: The child in me really misses gooey butter cake. And to be honest, I didn’t realize that this was a St Louis specialty until after I left, but that sweet taste of buttery sugar and eggs will always take me back to my childhood. There’s a place in New York called Momofuku Milk Barand, where they make something similar, but it’s not the same. It’s also $50.
I miss the ease of driving everywhere with minimal traffic. One of the things that is amazing about St Louis is that no matter where you are – you’re no more than 20 minutes from where you need to be. That sense of convenience is really underestimated, especially when living in a big city that can take nearly 30 minutes (sometimes even more) just to cross town in a cab.
When friends ask me about where I grew up, one of the first things I always mention is how green and beautiful St Louis is. It’s so nice being able to look out your window and see trees, birds and flowers, without having to jump on a subway to the nearest park. And of course, I miss my family, and it’s because of them that I get to come back and visit.
Although I’ve been in New York long enough to be considered a local, St Louis will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m proud of where I come from. St Louis has given me my roots and helped shape me into the person I am today. People from St Louis are often considered to be some of the most genuine, honest and charitable people around, and I’m fortunate to have these traits at my core, as they’ve helped me stay grounded.
Gazelle: How did your career in the fashion industry get started?
Handelman: I always knew I wanted to work in fashion, and heard through a family friend about the executive training program at Macy’s East. After college graduation, I interviewed for a spot in the program, and by August, I was driving a U-Haul from St Louis to New York with all my belongings. I stayed at Macy’s East for almost two years, working my way up to an associate buyer position, before an opportunity presented itself at one of my favorite fashion houses: Yves Saint Laurent. Those first roles were great stepping stones for me in my career as I moved on to more senior operations and sales positions at Prada, David Yurman and Net-A-Porter (to name a few).
Gazelle: What inspired you to move from St. Louis to New York?
Handelman: When pursuing a career in fashion, there’s really no place better than New York. I think I always knew I would head to a bigger city after college graduation, I just didn’t know how long I would stay.
New York can either send someone running for the hills or make them never want to leave. I find myself somewhere in the middle. To me, it’s important and healthy to escape this fast-paced and competitive environment from time to time, even if just for a weekend. The thing that no one tells you is that the longer you live in New York, the more you miss it when you’re away. This city really becomes a part of you!
Gazelle: What do you love most about your role at Alexandra Clancy?
Handelman: I love that I am in a position that allows me to use my entrepreneurial spirit and the culmination of all my past experiences in the industry. Whether it’s working on the design plan for the upcoming season, directing photoshoots, managing our Italian production or checking in with our retail partners, every day is different and equally crazy, but it’s what I love and what keeps me going.
I also love how closely I work with Alexandra and our small team. Each of our employees has big shoes to fill and lots of hats to wear, but we keep the environment team-focused, and we all work together like a family. Although I have an office, you’ll rarely catch me there. I’m usually at our showroom table, with everyone around and buzzing about.
Gazelle: What makes the Alexandra Clancy bag different from other luxury purses?
Handelman: We source the most luxurious materials like hand-painted exotics and buttery-soft nappa leathers, but apply them to clean, minimalist shapes. Our materials and treatments are very rich and opulent, while the mood remains cool and casual.
Our newest collection for summer 2018 takes a step in a more playful direction, largely inspired by New York street art. An exciting collaboration with a local graffiti artist resulted in an original screen-print that can be seen across several styles. Working with a palette reminiscent of the same punchy colors that can be viewed on the sides of buildings and in our streets, we were able to capture the colorful mood of the city. The clean lines and modern shapes of our bags were used as a canvas to bring the energetic vibe of New York City to life.
As a brand, we are always exploring ways to infuse the collection with newness, but one thing that always remains the same is our impeccable quality. This is often the first call-out when someone sees our bags in person. From the carefully curated selection of materials to the immaculate Italian craftsmanship, we work incredibly hard to ensure that everything is executed perfectly, down to the last detail.
Gazelle: We absolutely love the Whitney. What was the inspiration behind that piece?
Handelman: We understand that today’s modern woman is constantly moving, and needs a bag that can work with her day to night. When coming up with the idea for the Whitney, Alexandra took the classic envelope clutch shape and reimagined “her” as an everyday staple. If you wear her with the adjustable crossbody strap, she’s the perfect daytime companion. Slide your hand through her top hand strap, and you’ve got a chic evening clutch. This bag is quickly becoming one of our best sellers and has been introduced in seven colors since it launched last fall. We offer one in black with studs for the woman who’s minimal, with a touch of rock ‘n’ roll. There’s also a version in cognac with tonal snake detailing for the woman who is more refined and classic.
Gazelle: What is the biggest challenge in trying to reach the luxury buyer in today’s Instagram world and changing retail market?
Handelman: Fashion has obviously changed a lot due to social media and its powerful influence on the industry. Instagram has become one of the most important platforms for brands, allowing them to express their identity in creative ways, while expanding their customer reach. The retail market has also been shifting toward a more e-commerce (versus brick and mortar) focus, as consumers become more tech savvy and seek convenience in their busy lives. This is especially true for the millennials who are digital natives and grew up shopping online.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always fare well for emerging luxury brands, as an image can never replace the “touch and feel” experience that can only be had in-store. Quality, whether that relates to premium materials, intricate detailing or impeccable craftsmanship, can easily get lost on screen. However, we see this challenge being a temporary one as we continue focusing on educating the luxury buyer, while fueling more creative ways and opportunities to bring Alexandra Clancy accessories in front of her, so she feels confident placing orders online.
Gazelle: Why are social initiatives important to your brand?
Handelman: When Alexandra Clancy came up with the idea to launch her namesake brand, she wanted it to be one that helped unify the worlds of fashion and philanthropy. Supporting our communities and helping those less fortunate is at the core of our brand philosophy. And since we design for women, we focus on charities that support women and children.
Two years ago, we forged a partnership with Dress for Success, a worldwide nonprofit organization that provides guidance and professional attire to disadvantaged women seeking employment and new opportunity. When someone purchases an Alexandra Clancy bag, we donate a work bag to Dress for Success, helping these women gain the confidence they need to get on their feet and become self-supporting. It’s a great feeling to be able to give back without expecting anything in return. The knowledge that you’re able to make a positive change in someone else’s life is its own reward.
Gazelle: What’s big this season in accessories?
Handelman: Belt bags (fanny packs that you can wear and not feel like a tourist) have been trending for a couple of seasons now and continue to be a key item for 2018. They’re the perfect option for those who are on-the-go, and ideal for summer travel. Our Mercer belt bag has a double wrap belt that also converts into a crossbody strap for added versatility and wear. She’s lightweight and has an interior-tiered card pocket so you can leave your bulky wallet at home. Also trending are soft shoppers that are polished enough for the office, yet still casual enough for weekend outings. You’ll want to find one like our Mulberry Shopper that is double-faced in suede and ultra-lightweight, which is a big plus for those days you need to pack a bit extra.