“I never set out to create an ‘it bag,'” designer Stephane Park points out. “A bag shouldn’t overshadow your personal style, it should blend in seamlessly. And on its own, it should be timeless. The time of the ‘it bag’ was an interesting one in terms of handbag design and how that affected how people shop, but I feel that I actually create products in response to that, as the swing of the pendulum goes to the other side.”
Park is the founder and Creative Director at Aesther Ekme, the handbag brand based between Copenhagen and Paris. Those two cities are a good aesthetic descriptor of her work, which is high-quality, classic, functional, and architectural. But lest you think those the only two cities from which Park draws inspiration, be assured that her reference points are much, much wider. Growing up in Brazil to Korean parents, Stephane says that the many cultures she’s lived in throughout her life greatly inform her work.
“I’m heavily inspired by Brazilian architecture of the 70s, as well as Brutalism in general” she notes. She left Sao Paolo at 18 to study fashion design at Parsons in New York City, then going on to work for Alexander Wang in accessories.
But it wasn’t until she moved to Denmark in 2014 to pursue a Master’s Degree at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts that she felt the freedom to design as she wanted. “Living in Copenhagen, I found that I really connected to the design culture here. And design is part of everything, which I appreciate. I started to experience design as a way of thinking. You have to ask yourself, what is the problem you’re trying to solve when you make something? I found that I felt at home in Copenhagen.”
Park says she had always been most interested in accessories, so a handbag brand was a natural path for her. She launched Aesther Ekme in 2016, just after graduating. “I was creating the bags that I felt I needed, and that the women in my life needed. I find the most sculpture, and architecture, in the design of handbags. It’s actually very complicated in terms of all the considerations in the design.”
Complicated though the design may be, visually, Aesther Ekme handbags are striking simple; clean, minimalist, and just the right combination of structured and casual. There is no visible hardware, and the three dot logo is nearly invisible. This mix of strong aesthetics and subtle branding is why the bags have been such a hit across Scandinavia, the brand’s largest market. “We’re popular in Japan, and the US is a growing segment for us, but Scandinavia is currently where we’re doing best. It makes a lot of sense, because Scandinavians are invested in functional beauty,” Park says.
Aesther Ekme produces bags over four seasons a year, though there aren’t a large number of bags per season. Often, a change of color or material is enough to change the character of a bag in a significant way for a new collection. Park also relies on customer feedback for these kinds of changes, noting, “because we’re still a small team, I get a lot of feedback directly. I love that I get to hear from my customers what they love, and what they might like to be different. I use that to make the next season even better.”
The seasonality of the bags seems incidental, however, because the designs are timeless. They’re at once luxurious and discreet, modern and ageless. Aesther Ekme has no desire to be the next ‘it bag,’ but that seems besides the point. There’s no trendiness here, only functionality paired with designer Stephane Park’s vision of a handbag that adds to your life without overtaking your look.
Find out more about Aesther Ekme.