Text: Alec Coiro
Images Courtesy of Rowena Sartin, Building Block and Stand Up Comedy
Deep in the heart of L.A.’s Chinatown, Rowena Sartin and Building Block concocted Le Purse. The two fashion entities share more than just the neighborhood where they’re headquartered, they’re both run by innovative women who simultaneously operate or both a design practice and a store (Iko Iko in Dickson’s case), staking out a bit of freedom and independence in the cold, capitalist world of fashion.
Building Block is the nom de design of sisters Kimberly and Nancy Wu who are known for coaxing elegance out of modernist minimalism. Rowena Sartin is designed by Kristin Dickson, whose conversation with Jasmin Shokrian we recently eavesdropped on. According to Dickson, the collaboration began when they met at the original IKO IKO in 2009, “A year later we reconnected and my husband Shin (WAKA WAKA) and Building Block collaborated on some handles-bag shapes for IKO IKO. The whole process was really organic, a great convergence of shared influences and idea making. Since first knowing Kim and Nancy they both have always carried around tiny black sketchbooks with miniature drawings of bag ideas, wanderings, inventive carrying solutions. For two years we shared a studio/store space. It was an illuminating relationship where you are very present in each other’s work, seeing each other’s process and over time the language one develops with their work. This bag collaboration happened when I was pregnant during that time. I wanted to make a purse with Kim and Nancy, but it needed to be specific for both of us in what elements should be underlined from both of our practices. We sat on it for a while.”
When they were ultimately ready to collaborate, the initial shared vision was to do “something feminine, something specific to both of our studios, something that has a marriage of opposites–the hard-edged industrial shapes with a soft, accessory that could be personalized to the wearer.”The resulting Le Purse is a creature entire opposite of Le Car, which led only to the humiliation of Le George. Instead, it’s the end result that occurs when a collaboration breeds innovation: the merging of bag with jewelry, as the strap takes on necklace-level of elegance. What makes this audacious combination work is the geometric restraint evident in the rest of the bag’s design. Dickson’s description of the bag is somewhat similar in that she sees it as a merging of various interests that both parties brought to the table, “I think Building Block bags explore construction in an interesting way, often like product design and packaging–flat shapes made 3d, how to die cut construction, the relationship to industrial materials. Their drawings animate these preoccupations. I was looking at bags with interesting carrying options and how to have a personalizing effect, a multi-use element that could satisfy both decoration and function. We let that idea percolate along with the bag being more of a purse, something that could sidestep that everyday bag.”
Of course, all of this is all apparent from a closer look at the bag itself.
The vision became something feminine, something specific to both of our studios, something that has a marriage of opposites--the hard-edged industrial shapes with a soft, accessory that could be personalized to the wearer.