If you were around in the 80’s you too must have a story or memory of the leather brand, Etienne Aigner. I vividly remember saving up and buying a cigarette case at the 80’s preppy mecca Papagallo in Buffalo, NY. Yes, I know it was a cigarette case, but it was a different time and even as a teenager who smoked (I no longer smoke) this was the ultimate extravagance. In fact, pretty much any leather bag in that trademark red/cordovan leather (called Antic Red) with the distinctive horseshoe “A” logo was a sign of preppy chicness (was there such a thing?) back in the day. Then sometime in the 90’s I began to notice Etienne Aigner jacquard canvas bags with the logo emblazoned all over at mass retailers and just knew it was the end of the brand. Or so I thought.
A Little History
Master craftsman Étienne Aigner (1904-2000) was a Hungarian Jew who began his career as a bookbinder. Shortly after World War II, he began creating custom-made high-end leather bags and belts for several haute couture boutiques in Paris. In 1950, after successful apprenticeships with designers Christian Dior and Crisobal Balenciaga, Aigner left Paris for NYC in hopes of launching a successful eponymous brand in the U.S. Aigner was known as a charming and industrious man who had a big affection for family and friends and everything he designed had to have usefulness and a function in the spirit of efficiency.
1950 was also the year Aigner introduced his Antic Red leather open-pocket bag with angular processing and created the Aigner horseshoe “A” logo. He opened his first showroom in Manhattan in 1959 and in 1965 the “Aigner” brand and logo were licensed to a German business partner as Aigner GmbH Munich. By the 80’s the brand had really taken off and had become a favorite label of the “preppy” set. Aigner Chloe riding boots as well as leather bags became insanely popular. Aigner leather goods were heralded for being well made, thoughtful in design, always in good taste, but never at the expense of being beautiful.
Yet, once you sell the licensing to your brand you lose control and run the risk of being subject to business decisions that have to do more with sales and the bottom line than design. Étienne Aigner, the brand, became a heavily licensed public corporate machine which explains why Aigner bags that looked more like Guess bags were selling for a pittance at retailers like Burlington Coat Factory. Aigner became a big box brand that lost it’s cache.
Fortunately, the brand was rescued. The company was bought nearly six years ago, taken private and is now family run. The new owners decided to let the brand take an extended vacation and purposely allowed it to lose money so they could clean the name, business and processes and reposition Étienne Aigner as a lower-priced bridge contemporary brand. It’s not every day you hear a story like this.
Etienne Aigner Today
The brand is back and is more than worth a second notice. The new Etienne Aigner offers accessible luxury for the American and international “creative class” in much the same way that the brand’s founder established himself as a purveyor of handbags and leather goods to Paris’ fashion elite.
Fall 2012 marked the first expanded product lines designed under new Creative Director Daniela Anastasio Bardazzi and has since been gaining exponential momentum within the industry. Daniela had previously worked for Michael Kors and Isaac Mizrahi and brings a European sensibility to the label. She told me her husband is from Florence and her father-in-law carries a vintage Etienne Aigner camera bag which served as the inspiration for the brand’s now popular Stag Bag.
Since timelessness is Daniela’s signature, she and Aigner’s owners are targeting women 35-55 who invest in quality products. They have expanded the brand’s range to that of a full lifestyle brand. Today’s Etienne Aigner encompasses a complete assortment of apparel, footwear, handbag, jewelry, and small leather good collections. Ready-to-wear is completely new to the brand, but makes sense when you understand they have begun building what Daniela calls the “woman tribe.”
I first previewed the relaunched collection about a year ago and immediately noticed the quality and design of the bags. I was then shocked and then elated the prices were so reasonable. As all my memories of the brand (and my long lost cigarette case) came flooding back, I was excited about this new direction for the brand. Bags range in price from $445 for the Stag Bag, to $295 for the leather Turner Tote, to $345 for the Rigg bucket bag. One of Daniela’s favorites (and mine) is the Eva pouch which comes in a range of sizes and like nesting baskets can organize your entire tote or be carried as a clutch ($65-$185). They can also be monogrammed in-store.
The new Etienne Aigner exudes a distinctly chic, metropolitan spirit, which I wholeheartedly agree repositions the brand as a creative force with which to be reckoned. Etienne Aigner epitomizes classically rooted fashion that steadfastly addresses women who embody the brand’s effortless-chic sensibilities head-to-toe, day-in and day-out. I could not be more excited to witness this rebirth.
In October 2013 Etienne Aigner opened their first-ever flagship retail location at 65 Greene Street in SoHo, New York. You may also shop the collection online at etienneaigner.com.
– Lauren Dimet Waters