Not many people would consider taking an eel to a lunch date. But not many people are successful British handbag and purse designer, Heidi Mottram.
Instead of travelling alongside the conventional route of crocodile, snake and the now ancient laughing cow, the Cheshire-born lass explored the exotics from across the globe (and her own Mother’s accessory drawer) to bring back the long suppressed secret in design ‘hush hush’ itself. A beautifully supple, tantalisingly resilient, vivacity-enhancing texture that has stayed true to its word when endorsed with, “No eels were harmed during the making of this bag.”
After dreaming of become a vet when she was younger and having a keen and expressed interest in the nature of beauty, it comes with no real surprise that Mottram has become the renowned and acclaimed designer for the finest eel skin leather creations. From tote handbags, wrist clutches, envelope purses and a move into the technology-obsessed generation of iPad wallets; all wonderfully British with a panache of personality and refinement, a balance that only comes with tremendous grace.
After graduating from two top creative universities and working alongside designers Dame Vivienne Westwood and Matthew Williamson, Mottram has delivered with a strikingly distinguished label under her own name. Set for global expansion, it seems eels are in for a killing yet – just remember to offer yours a drink when you are next at brunch; it is thirsty work being glamorous.
So how did you and ‘fashion’ first meet?
I have always been creative from as far back as I can remember. I even made a capsule wardrobe for the tooth fairy in my very early years! I never considered a creative job originally because I enjoyed it too much. It is just who I am. I wanted to be a vet firstly as I have always loved working with animals. Then one day my friends and family pointed out how lost I would be to not have art, fashion and design in my life, so at the age of 18 I left my sleepy hometown in Cheshire to study fashion and textiles in London.
You studied at two leading University of the Arts, London College of Fashion and Central Saint Martins; how did this learning help you succeed in your quest for designing?
It was my dream to go to LCF and CSM. Both places introduced me to other creatives with a strong will to succeed in what they do; both students and teachers had real passion. This was really inspiring to me as I had come from a school that was heavily academic and did not see much value in the arts. It was scary mixing with these talented people but it did push me to experiment further in my chosen field.
How did you come up with the idea to use eel skin in your designs?
When I was younger I discovered my mum had an eel skin purse so I was aware of the material from a very young age. When I first started my business I was designing and making corsets. I was travelling to various countries to look for materials and happened upon some eel skin accessories, so I started to make a few enquiries as the feel is amazing. It is so soft but strong! Unfortunately I had to catch a flight back home but the idea of eel skin accessories stayed with me. I realised then that there was very little of it in this country at that time. I decided to do some intensive courses to learn about the construction of bags and purses and soon jumped back on a plane and went hunting for eel skin suppliers.
What is better about using eel skin over the more conventional, cow hide?
Firstly eel skin is a by product of the food industry so the eels are not harmed purely for their skin. That in itself gets a tick from me. We never use skins from animals harmed purely for vanity. Secondly the skin feels amazing! It is so soft, feather light and durable; it also takes colour really well so vibrancy is not lost. In my view eel skin feels more sumptuous than other exotic leathers.
What is your biggest inspiration when designing your purse and handbags?
All of my designs are heavily rooted in nature, especially for the textures. My SS11 collection was based on the sea lily and my AW11 on the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). I like to mix the power and tradition of nature with beliefs, magic and mysticism. This has lead me to produce a SS12 collection based on the idea of belief and luck in the past and present day, which often stems from incidents in nature.
Your favourite piece that you have designed so far?
I love the oversized clutch bags. They certainly make a statement and can add a flash of colour to any outfit. They have multi-uses too as many of my customers and I not only use them to carry everything we need for a night out, but in the day they can also be great for documents and iPads etc.
You have worked with many acclaimed designers, what did you learn from these opportunities?
I did not always realise how much I was learning at the time until it was all over and I had chance to look back on each experience. I learnt prior to setting up my own business how much work is involved in producing a successful brand. I do not believe that many people realise what goes into forming a collection, it is more than just scribbling a few ideas in a sketch book and getting someone to sew it up. Deadlines, budgeting, sourcing, quality control etc, mixed with the design itself, is highly demanding.
Who do you have in mind when you are designing?
My bags and purses at present are mostly designed for women; a hard working but social lady. Not shy to make a statement, whilst remaining stylish and classy.
Which designer would you like to meet?
My favourite designer is Vivienne Westwood. I have been fortunate enough to meet and work with her. She is lovely and I was so excited to meet my idol; I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat!
What is your proudest moment so far?
I have 3 moments. The first is having the nerve to leave my safe job to set up on my own. The second is the moment I achieved my first overseas stockist and the 3rd is winning Business of the Year in 2009.
Where are you going next with your label, to where do you see yourself in five years?
We are in the process of changing our branding for SS12. We have introduced a new icon for the brand in the form of a turtle, to represent the idea that most women claim to carry their lives in their bag. The turtle also carries its life in a protective, beautiful casing and is the symbol of luck and longevity. We will have a new silver metal branded tag on all of our products too. With regard to expanding we have just launched our new iPad cases and are looking at globally growing further into electronic and mens accessories too.
And finally, your tombstone will read…?
Carried her life in style.
Heidi Mottram is available to shop at IndependentBoutique.com.