Style: Three luxury Cambridge bag brands to love
Cambridge is the birthplace of a new generation of luxury bag brands. Alice Ryan meets the designers pairing style with substance
Lucy Welton: She’s worked for Lulu Guinness, Burberry and Amanda Wakeley. And now Lucy Welton, Cambridge-based accessories designer and leathersmith, has launched an eponymous bag brand, as she tells Velvet
"My label is very simple, intentionally so. Everything from the materials to the craft techniques are consistently traditional. The brand mainly has a clean look throughout, reflecting the values at its core. I like to experiment with shape, but I generally follow a set of rules regarding the making, so I work with what the leather wants to do.
I learned to make handbags at uni, where I studied traditional handbag making, and then went into the industry as a junior designer. I worked primarily in a digital format, but always kept the practical skill of making bags alive in my mind.
The actual brand started about five years ago, when a friend of mine asked me to make a handbag for his girlfriend. The original design was based on a bag from my graduate collection from 2012, and once that bag was gifted, I basically kept getting more requests for bags, then my one-off pieces eventually grew into a little collection of styles that are now the classic core shapes of the brand.
I will always remember my time as a junior designer at Lulu Guinness because it was my first design job out of uni. I went in there as a bag maker, but I received an education in the world of surface design and vintage fashion. I discovered so many amazing artists and illustrators who blew my mind, and that we could collaborate with or draw inspiration from.
It took me away from the blatantly commercial aspect of fashion, which can be quite wearing, and I learnt to really harness my imagination. My experience there simultaneously refined my design style, and yet broadened my capabilities as a multi-product designer, so I consider myself to be more of a lifestyle product designer than just a handbag maker. Lulu and her team were amazing to learn from… We also had a right laugh there too!
The main philosophy of my brand is to deliver extremely high-quality bags with as low an impact on the environment as possible. So I only use vegetable-tanned leathers and natural fabrics, and all are treated with simple finishes. I produce everything by hand, because I think it's important to maintain the old ways of making, and they still hold-up as the most ethical way of producing fashion. I would love it if there was still a shoe-maker on most High Streets, like there once would have been.
I'm planning on developing a range of straw baskets with leather finishes next. These are going to be a collaboration with basketmakers that are local to Cambridgeshire. I'm very excited about this, because it's a beautifully natural evolution for the brand.
So far, the biggest reward has been seeing people enjoy my products. I love making presents for people, and I love feedback on them - even criticism, because I'm still learning and developing my skills.
The best-selling bag has always been the mini Kotori saddle bag; I've been consistently making it for five years. It's my favourite as well. I think it does well because it's very cute!"
Beaudurof: Combining style with function so ingeniously they stopped a Vogue staffer in the street, Beaudurof bags are designed for both work and play - and to last forever. Founders Jacqui Gilbert and Frances Brandon tell the story of the Cambridge-born brand
"One of our first ever samples was spotted on the street in London by Vogue. One of our customers was waiting for a taxi, wearing her bag as a backpack, when their accessories writer approached her to ask about her beautiful bag. That was a huge moment of validation for us: our bag met the exacting standards of the world’s decisive voice on luxury design.
Beaudurof is Old English for ‘bold in battle’. We thought it was a fitting name for a brand that equips the modern woman with the armour she needs to face each day. Today women are called on to play many roles. The theme of our collection is versatility: everything we make can be worn multiple ways. Our signature bag, the Franklin City, converts to become a fully functional – and beautiful – backpack. Our Franklin Clutch is a day-to-night purse that can be worn four ways and our Glasses Case collapses to become flat when not needed to save space.
The idea was sparked when Jacqui travelled to a job interview and had to carry her laptop, files, jacket and water from Cambridge to London and back again, commuting on the train. Her satchel didn't fit everything she needed. She could not carry her handbag because it caused her back pain, so she was forced to walk into the interview room carrying her backpack.
The backpack was a mistake. She was told that wearing one in the workplace undermined her image as a credible professional. She got the job, but from that moment it did not matter: Beaudurof had been founded to give women everywhere the edge in making a first impression. From there, we spent years interviewing women about their ideal handbag; we went through over 15 iterations to arrive at the Franklin City you see today. We are probably the only bag brand featured in Vogue that also holds multiple patents for our engineered innovations! Excitingly, we were showcased at the European Product Design Awards last year.
Our bags are made by the same artisans that make for the world’s most elite luxury houses. We scoured the globe to ensure they were made not only with the highest quality materials but also to stringent ethical and sustainable production standards. We decided on leather as our bags embrace the principles of slow fashion; at the moment, it’s stronger and more durable than the available alternatives. We also choose our colours carefully, so our customers can depend on them season after season.
We met as students in Cambridge. It’s where the idea for our first product was born, and it where our brand has grown and flourished. The Cambridge community has been a constant support to us: it’s an incredible city full of innovative minds and kind hearts. Our prototyping and product development began and continues in Cambridge’s very own Makespace.
We had a brilliant Christmas pop up at the Grand Arcade, made possible by their interest in supporting local business. Discussions on making this a permanent opportunity are underway. We see 2021 being a year of exciting partnerships, and are delighted to have been chosen to take part in the celebrations for H.M. Queen’s 95th birthday, organised by St James’ House: a showcase of excellence in British design and engineering.
Day to day, a great reward is being inspired by our customers and everything they achieve. We’ve heard stories of Beaudurof women riding out the pandemic presenting scientific papers to global conferences over Zoom, while pregnant and caring for a 3-year-old. Bigger picture, as founders, we have committed to leveraging the opportunities we have been afforded and the support of Cambridge to build a remarkable and successful company. If we succeed, we can not only create local opportunity but also have a positive global impact – a huge achievement from a handbag!
We think that when you buy a Beaudurof bag, you know you’re equipping yourself to succeed. As one of our customers recently said, “Beaudurof doesn’t really sell bags, what they sell is courage.”
M.Hulot: Anna Kreeger’s bag brand - M.Hulot, which she runs from her studio in Eaton Socon - celebrates its 10th birthday this year. As Anna tells Velvet, the bags balance timeless design and enduring quality with a thoroughly modern sensibility
"M.Hulot came about as I was designing for the High Street but had my own idea of the kind of accessories I wanted to create both aesthetically and ethically. Of prime importance were beautiful vegetable tanned leathers, simple understated designs and the provenance of how and where each piece would be made.
Monsieur Hulot - the fictional (and famously eccentric) Frenchman - went through life exuding charm and playfulness in an emerging modern world that was clunky and ugly. When M.Hulot launched, the logoed, blingy ‘It Bag' was very much a thing and I wanted our bags to be the antidote to this. This made me think of the similarity to Monsieur Hulot and his place in the world.
I draw on traditional and useful styles such as satchels and tote bags, but try to pare them back so there’s no unnecessary details or hardware. I love to use colourful leathers and unique ways of fastening to make them stand out.
I source vegetable tanned leather from Tuscany in Italy which has a centuries old history of tanning skins. Only natural materials are used in the tanning process and it means that the skin has a ‘naked’ surface and you can see the true beauty of the skin, which then changes and develops a patina with use.
All M.Hulot bags are manufactured in England by makers and factories we know well, with years of expertise and agility to respond quickly to what we need as a small business.
Currently our best selling bag is the Loe Bumbag. I think it has universal appeal across age groups, and can be worn round the hips and across the body. It's available in two strap sizes, so works on most builds and body shapes, and this versatility has really appealed. I think it’s been the perfect size throughout lockdown when people have only been carrying the bare essentials, but above all I think it just looks great on! We’ve been lucky enough to have it worn by some very stylish people across social media.
The Hulot Pouch Bag is the hero design for this year. It’s a really special mini bag with two compartments and a slip pocket, and comes in wonderful primary colours of Yellow, Red, Cobalt and then an Avocado Green. I think we’re all craving a little lift at the moment, and the Hulot Pouch is the perfect bag to see us out of lockdown and make an impact.
I loved drawing and textiles from a young age. My A Levels at Long Road were a really creative time and after dallying between textiles and fashion, I went on to study Fashion in Birmingham.
As the pandemic took hold, I was about to open an M.Hulot shop on Magdalene Street, Cambridge. It was incredibly sad to have to halt the plans, but once I’d accepted what had happened it gave me a feeling of wanting to change a few things in the business.
I had recently introduced some clothing and having this made elsewhere was just another thing to manage. I came up with the plan of bringing the clothing in-house and sewing it all here, allowing me more control - something we've all struggled with in the pandemic, I’m sure - and getting back to working with my hands and crafting a piece from start to finish.
It’s in the early stages, but I operate on a made-to-order basis and it’s been a therapeutic way to spend the day, plus it allows me thinking time to plan the business whilst sewing too!
Some of my favourite days are choosing materials and colour palettes, or a photoshoot day when everything we’ve worked towards comes together and just looks spot on. More and more we are getting regular and returning customers and that is the biggest reward; knowing that people love what we do and support M.Hulot on a regular basis."
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