Pythons, lizards and crocs, oh my! Accessories made of exotic skins have never been hotter. But for those of us who refuse to wear the real thing, this trend leaves us cold. And when the alternative is an embossed plastic “snakeskin” bag of questionable origin destined to become landfill fodder, well… What’s a girl to do? Raven Kauffman has the answer.
LA-based designer Raven Kauffman,whose bewitching couture clutches have been spotted in the hands of Drew Barrymore, Dita von Teese and current Oscar nominee Amy Adams, has created a line of luxe faux-skin accessories that are completely swoon-worthy. And they’re vegan. Not only are they eco-friendly, they are also sustainable; Kauffman’s Everyday Exotics are investment-quality pieces that, unlike their poorly constructed fast-fashion counterparts, will stand the test of time in both style and craftsmanship.
“The Everyday Exotics line came about 4 years into my life as a handbag designer”, Raven says, “I knew that Stella McCartney had a strong following for her vegan bags, which have a certain elegance and sophistication to them. I love the look of exotic hides, but never felt comfortable working with them personally. Any fake crocodile or snake that I had seen up until this point was pretty cheap looking. It was as though the manufacturers had to overcompensate for the fact that it was fake by making it crazy colors and adding tons of cheap hardware. I saw making the Everyday Exotics material as a challenge to bring true sophistication to the vegan market, and give the consumer something very special and unique that they could only get if they bought a VERY expensive real exotic skin bag.”
Looking back, it makes perfect sense that Raven Kauffman would produce designs that showcase the intricate beauty of exotic animal skins with absolute reverence for the creatures themselves. Her childhood was a charmed one: her mother, a biochemist, cultivated and curated orchids in a 20,000 square foot greenhouse at their 1703 Pennsylvania farmhouse and her father was a clothing designer who later delved into historic preservation. Kauffman spent her days experimenting with beautiful colored pencils and watercolors, tending to farm animals, collecting tadpoles and other squirmy specimen from their pond (and placing the little stowaways in Mason jars underneath her bed) learning romance languages and relishing in a Waldorf education on a nearby dairy farm.
Inspired by scattered glimpses of Jacques Cousteau on NOVA, Kauffman wanted to be a marine biologist when she grew up, even studying bio-chemistry at Cornell (though she was offered a scholarship to study metalsmithing and jewelry making at Vassar). She designs in a way that exhibits a heightened sensitivity and understanding of nature–she approaches her work with the head of a scientist and the heart of an artist.
“The rubber ‘skins’ are cast and finished by hand by a team of skilled artisans, and the finishing process is similar to what is used in the very high end leather industry,” she says. “The attention to detail and the amount of labor that goes into every piece is astounding – sometimes 12 individual processes happen for certain colors and finishes, and no two skins are exactly alike.”
Aside from runway-ready clutches and shoulder bags in supple faux crocodile and python, the Everyday Exotics line also includes sculptural cuff bracelets made from reclaimed brass. “The process of making the jewelry goes right back to my early love of metal smithing… Also, after I met the husband and wife team behind the business that casts them for me, I was in love and had to find a way to work with them. The luster that they are able to achieve on their pieces is astounding. No plating is involved, so the environmental impact is very minimal.”
The success of Everday Exotics has encouraged Raven Kauffman toward expansion–she’s currently experimenting with reclaimed woods and stone veneers. The focus remains on quality, no matter what the medium: “I think about making objects that are heirlooms and less disposable so that I can leave less waste behind for my children to contend with,” says Kauffman. “I’m tired of the theory that you can only build a big commercially successful brand if you take your manufacturing overseas. I see myself being a big part of this movement of bringing creativity back to the U.S. .manufacturing scene.”
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