Aurélia Stouls, India Mahdavi Cross-pollinate on Handbag, Chair Collaboration

PARIS — They come from different design worlds, but it’s a match made in handbags for Aurélia Stouls and India Mahdavi.

Fashion designer Stouls is known for her body-hugging stretch leather ready-to-wear line, while Mahdavi designs interior worlds with her furnishings and spaces.

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The two are friends and neighbors — they live on the same street in Paris — and have worked together on projects in the past: Mahdavi designed Stouls’ flagship a decade ago, while Stouls shot her winter campaign at Mahdavi’s showroom space. They’d been toying with ideas for a professional collaboration for years.

So when Stouls decided to launch her handbag line, it was time to make it official.

“I think the basis of this is a friendship. Not only are we friends in real life, but also we’re friends of color. We have this passion for colors and there’s a very beautiful connection through the way Aurélia uses her colors and what I’m looking to find with my colors,” said Mahdavi.

“I see colors as my friends and the more the merrier. I like the colors when they argue, when they fight, and when they have a conversation. I just bring them to life and they live with me. You have to surround yourself with these friends,” said Mahdavi.

“India has a big and strong-colored universe,” said Stouls, while Mahdavi added that Stouls’ work of contouring the body is very much her own approach to architecture.

Together they asked themselves how they bring these elements out in a unique way, and Stouls decided to dig deep into her archive of deadstock and offcuts. Mahdavi then selected Stouls’ traditional tartan print to be reimagined in her own bright color palette.

They selected from Stouls’ rows of rolled offcuts stacked ceiling-high. “You feel like you are in a candy shop when you’re in front of them,” she said.

The result is a pink, yellow and purple explosion of bold colors, like a very chic box of Peeps.

India Mahdavi’s bright colors on the Justin bag.
India Mahdavi’s bright colors on the Justin bag.

The combination appears on Stouls’ new Justin bag and on Mahdavi’s famous Gelato armchair.

Upcycling should be inherent to today’s design and business practices as part of an ethical mindset, they both agreed, and a way to be inventive and transformational with design.

“You have to forget that it is leftovers and not even think about it. When you see either the chair or the bag, it feels totally new,” said Stouls.

The pink and purple tartan pieces are extremely limited-edition. “I love this idea that there are going to be 10 bags with this famous pink, and when it’s over you’re going to be one of the 10 persons to have one of those bags. It is ethical and logical,” said Mahdavi.

The chair is even more unique: There is only one.

The collaboration kicks off Stouls’ first range of handbags with two styles: the Justin, a large woven weekender carryall, and the Elina, a smaller woven version with an adjustable shoulder strap. The full collection is rendered in more traditional colors of blue, green and shades of browns.

The Elina in chocolate.
The Elina in chocolate.

The pair will celebrate the launch with a cocktail party Thursday at Mahdavi’s showroom-slash-gallery, which is a space of transformation itself. She calls one part “the project room,” and invites a rotating band of artists or designers to present their work.

The room was created in a spirit of the independent design community coming together. Mahdavi has done 12 exhibitions hosting artists from around the world and is working on a book about the projects.

“It’s quite a difficult world where [artists and designers] are all trying to exist when there’s huge institutions and brands and companies that are taking over all the spaces,” she said. “This is a different way to work where we can sort of exist on our own by creating this community, and making sure that we can survive.” The only way forward is collaboration, they both believe.

Stouls started her rtw line 20 years ago from a small run of machine-washable leather T-shirts that became so sought after it launched the brand. She still produces the T-shirts in every collection.

“Now with the bags, I hope they’re going to have the same effect on women,” she said, of becoming a staple piece for life on the go.

The limited-edition Justin x India Mahdavi totes retail for 1,950 euros and the singular Gelato armchair is available at 6,000 euros.

The Justin in bottle green.
The Justin in bottle green.

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