By Katherine Ellis
Photography by Kareen Mallon
One day, Ivy Chen decided to head to a meeting with potential future clients of her family’s garment manufacturing business without dragging multiple bags along.
“It was kind of awkward in the beginning,” says Chen, a lawyer by trade. “You always want to go into a meeting looking professional, but I would arrive and say, ‘Give me five minutes, let me set up and untangle myself!’”
She was looking for comfort, but also a style statement. A car accident eight years earlier left one side of her body paralyzed, so carrying multiple bags and walking in heels left her in pain. Chen wanted one bag that could fit many items for presentations, including her laptop and her purse. But the search for that perfect accessory was not easy. She spent a lot of time trying to find the piece and saw options at different extremes — starting with $200 vinyl or nylon bags, all the way up to $2,000 high-end pieces. “Buying a [$2,000] bag that you drag on the ground? [I was] not so comfortable with that!” she says laughing.
That was when a new idea started to take shape: “I thought: ‘Maybe I can do something on my own and design a bag, figuring out what I need,’” she says.
The plan was to also add compartments, increase the length of the extendable handle for ease and comfort when wearing heels and, of course, to match her outfits and day-to-day wear.
After two years of research, designs and tests, Chen launched three bags in November 2012, hosting an official launch in April 2013.
“JOLIE is a [trio of] luxury handbags on wheels. It is style that meets function,” she says. “For me, leather equals luxury. I wanted to keep the bags simple and I have a big love for Parisian fashion — I find it very chic.” So she incorporated the French style into her designs.
The Isabella bag is the smallest one — known as the “everyday bag.” Its concept reflects an accessory you could carry from daytime to night time, either as a handbag or as a roll-on with an extendable handle. Rosabella, the second piece, is longer — it can accommodate legal-sized paper and is ideal for women in executive and legal fields. Lastly, the Clarabella, also known as “the weekender,” sports pouches for many different uses, including a lined area that can be house clothes and a separate area for documents. All bags meet the carry-on requirements for airplane travel.
Chen handpicked the leather and colours after spending three months in Asia, where she travelled to different manufacturing plants. “Being from the manufacturing background, [I know] something can look really pretty, but if it is not durable and not made properly, everything else doesn’t matter.”
Though the JOLIE handbags — part of her brand World of JOLIE — are Chen’s first foray into the design world, the love for fashion has never been far away. Her blog Prim and Pimp, created in 2011, highlights many style aspects, including latest trends, fashion events, favourite recipes and restaurants, interior design and, most recently, her new brand.
Though no longer involved in the family business, Chen also keeps the family close in this new chapter of her life. The name “Jolie,” translated as “pretty” from French, was a nickname given to her by her late father. “He passed away five years ago and I wanted to honour him,” she says. “He was the one who pushed me into [this business], giving me the opportunity to learn manufacturing and apply it in a different way.”