Design-A-Bag Online Competition winner story – Online Favorite Design
Marieke de Vree | 27 April 2016

Living in Castricum (The Netherlands), I am a handbag designer and have my own studio called ‘POOKPOOK’. After completing my training at the Academy of Creative Arts in Maastricht, I began designing and manufacturing sculptures and jewellery, mostly assemblies of materials such as ceramics and leather. Over the last five years I have shifted to handbags, designed not so much to be a fashion accessory but rather a portable art object illustrating a humourous story. As if you’re carrying a cartoon on your arm. 

I learned to master specific leather fabrication techniques while training for two-years in Brabant, a region in the South of Holland that has been the epi-centre of Dutch shoe and leather production for centuries. 

My workshop is filled with cast-off leathers and animal skins that I find while roaming recycle shops, antique dealers and flea markets. I then freely draw from this myriad of materials to create the bags.

Online Favorite Design of Design-A-Bag Competition Winner
Marieke’s portrait in her studio  - on her lap bag ‘Perdita’, in the window from left to right bags “It’s A Jungle Out There (Buffalo)”, “It’s A Jungle Out There (Giraf)” and “DIRK”.

Many of my handbag designs are inspired by icons and brands from the world of cartoons, commercials and films. Another major source of inspiration are my “materials suppliers” – that is, the animals themselves. The better touch of reused leathers from farm animals and antique exotic skins has great appeal for me. Used leather is a very versatile material, in as much as it is just as soft and light as cream and you can mould it like clay. It had a life of its own, which adds another dimension: you can tell if the animal has gone through rough times, been bitten by hornets or caught up in barbed wire.

For the Design-A-Bag Competition 2016 I submitted a bag named ‘Perdita’ as my entry in the category ‘Evening Bag’. This bag has a personal history as I used to have a Dalmatian when I was a kid. I had named it Perdita after the mother dog in the Disney film ‘101 Dalmatians’. By the time my dog had grown too old to be able to accompany me on my travels, I started to fantasise about the idea of being able to literally fold her into a portable parcel that I could hang from my shoulder, in the crook of my arm or sling her across my body – very much like the ‘bitchy’ evening bag worn by Cruella De Vil.

The design of ‘Perdita’ consists of a black-and-white leather (cow) hide which has a dog shape and can actually be folded into an evening bag. The fastener is made of a thick, black plush doll plastic dog nose. A fitting dog leash, with two loyal dog’s eyes mounted on it, serves as a handle. The handbag also comes with an ornament in the shape of a silver name badge decorated with Swarovski stones. And then I always hide a personal joke for the new owner inside my handbag designs: on the azure inside clasp of this bag I have sewn a ‘Perdita’ puppy pattern and included a mini version of the dog nose with which the handbag is fastened. 

In Holland women like to wear ‘basic’ clothes, plain colours and no dessins, which are very practical in daily life. But they like to combine it with eye-catching accessories like bags and shoes of ‘Dutch Design’, the English term that characterises the modern design aesthetic so typical of Dutch designers: experimental, quirky and humorous. 

My favourite Dutch handbag designers are Hester van Eeghen en Vlieger & Vandam. Hester designs bags in geometric shapes with bright mono-colouring, and the duo Vlieger & Vandam make very original and humorous designs like ‘Guardian Angel’, a bag with a relief of a pistol. Don’t carry it at airports!

Online Favorite Design of Design-A-Bag Competition Harmonica
Photo credit: Hester van Eeghen

Online Favorite Design of Design-A-Bag Competition Guardian Angel
Guardian Angel 
Photo credit: Vlieger & Vandam

Sometimes I make designs in order. I created an evening handbag design out of red furry ox hide leather that was modelled on the disposable plastic bag of DIRK, a major Dutch supermarket chain. It was a practical joke but of a sample of it ended up on display in the Museum of Bags and Purses in Amsterdam.

Online Favorite Design of Design-A-Bag Competition Dirk

Each year I create five striking ‘Christmas Eve Bags’ in addition to two small collections. My handbag dubbed ‘Rudolph: reindeer with exchangeable noses’ is my most popular design. This bright green handbag is an extravagant sculpture of springbok hide with a crest of wild hairs flapping back and forth on the handbag. And the ‘antlers’ form the handle. The handbag has three different nose-shaped fasteners, including of course a festive, luminous red one for Christmas Eve. 

Online Favorite Design of Design-A-Bag Competition Rudolph

At the moment I’m working on my summer collection of ‘Fish ’n Chips’ handbags made up of the colourful fish skins of stingray, mullet, eel, salmon and tropical gourami. This new collection will make its debut early June 2016. 

My handbags are exhibited in Dutch art galleries and via my website.