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From Architecture to Handbags: Canadian Designer Sidney Molepo

Sidney Molepo Elizabeth Clutch

Sidney Molepo Elizabeth Clutch worn by Viola Davis at the 2015 SAG Awards

We all know that moving to New York is no slice of easy pie but Botswana-born, Ottawa-raised Sidney Molepo makes succeeding in the Big Apple look effortless. The architect turned handbag and shoe designer is taking his passion for opulent-looking materials and familiarity of fine lines and practical form and bringing it to the fashion design table. His designs mix Old Hollywood glamour with modern silhouettes and manage to pair nicely with nearly any cocktail dress imaginable. His shoes and clutches boast black-stained natural walnut, vegetable-tanned leather and metal accents, fine details that celebrities—and their stylists—can’t get enough of. His pieces, especially the clutches, have been seen on Cate Blanchett, Céline Dion, Jessica Chastain and most recently on Viola Davis when she strutted the 2015 Screen Actors Guild Awards red carpet with Molepo’s Elizabeth Box Clutch. 

In the midst of meetings with investors and prototype sketches (he’s very busy) we took a few minutes to chat with the designer to find out what it’s like to go from building blueprints to fashion design. He let us in on the inspiration behind his ever-evolving accessories and what it’s like to be on the speed dial of Hollywood’s busiest celebrity stylists.

theFashionSpot: Tell us about your switch from architecture to fashion design?

Sidney Molepo: While studying architecture at Carleton University, I was more interested in the smaller scale of furniture. After graduation, I moved to New York (Brooklyn) to pursue furniture design. In an attempt to find an even smaller scale to work at, I came across shoe design and saw many similarities with furniture design and construction. When I started making shoes I gave many pairs away to friends who seemed to really like the use of natural materials and unique take on design (since I came to shoemaking from the world of furniture design). At the moment, I make all my pieces in my studio. However, I recently started working with a business partner to expand what I’m doing.

Sidney Molepo Working At His Atelier

Soe and handbag designer Sidney Molepo working at his atelier. Image courtesy of Sidney Molepo.

tFS: And how did all of the Hollywood buzz begin? Obviously the clutches and shoes are gorgeous but what helped get them on celebrities?

SM: After sending several pairs of shoes to celebrity stylist Elizabeth Stewart, I offered to make and donate a few handbags that she could auction off at the annual fundraising event she organizes, The Bag Lunch, which raises money for a great Los Angeles charity, P.S. Arts. These were the first bags I ever made, but from the positive reaction I received following the event, I started focusing almost exclusively on designing and making handbags. 

tFS: What about men’s accessories?

SM: Hopefully in the near future I’ll have a men’s accessories line. I can see how my material palette of leather, wood and metal could translate well to men’s accessories.

tFS: Tell us why you’re working with materials like walnut and vegetable tanned leathers this season. What has inspired this look?

SM: The look and feel of my pieces, as well as the material palette, is heavily influenced by my past work in furniture design and making. I like to think of handbags as smaller case goods. I love working with wood and I love the feel and versatility of vegetable tanned leather—I can dye it any color and even emboss it. I also appreciate that vegetable-tanned leather is a more environmentally friendly material than more commonly available chrome tanned leather, and when left natural it allows for a finished product with a nice artisanal quality.

Sidney Molepo Stewart Clutch

Sidney Molepo Stewart Clutch

tFS: What’s the top-selling product for Spring 2015?

SM: At the moment, the most popular item I make is definitely my Elizabeth Box Clutch, which was carried by Viola Davis to the 2015 SAG Awards. It is a carved wood box, stained black, with inlay panels of brass rings. I am currently working on developing a new collection of handbags using a similar theme.

tFS: What’s inspiring your designs at the moment?

SM: I always find myself influenced by architectural forms and detailing. I’ve started working more and more with metal. I find that the combination of wood and metal, mixed with the softness and flexibility of leather and fabrics, allows me to work outside the normal parameters of accessory design.