Wearing your story

Olympia Le-Tan creates playful handbags that give a new meaning to the term “pocketbook.”

Olympia Le-Tan has given new meaning to the term “pocketbook.”

Actually, she may have started the world’s coolest book club.

Le-Tan’s whimsical handbag collection resembles books — yes, books — from the likes of Robert Bloch’s “Psycho” to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Daphne du Maurier’s “The Apple Tree.” Between the handbags’ vintage looks and graphic covers, you can hardly distinguish between the purses — and the real thing. 

Unless you’re trying to flip through pages, that is.

Le-Tan designs her handbags to look like the books that marked her childhood. Born in Paris to an English mother and a French father, she grew up in a home whose walls were  lined with novels, many of which bore striking covers. Le-Tan’s father, Pierre — who occasionally collaborates with her on some of her collections — worked as an illustrator, often bringing his daughter along to exquisite tea parties and grand galleries.

But Le-Tan’s adult life shares a storybook quality as well. While attending the Chanel Couture Atelier in Paris for an internship, Le-Tan worked closely with designer Gilles Dufour, the assistant to Karl Lagerfeld. In 2000, when Dufour left to work for Balmain, Le-Tan joined him, anticipating a change of pace. As a team, they worked to create T-shirts with provocative sayings, which was racy for the time. Needless to say, Balmain did not entertain the idea.

It wasn’t until she was fired from Balmain — and working part-time as a deejay for high-end clients such as Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga — that she started making bags as a quirky project of sorts. Having seen success, she went on to launch her line in 2009, designing her collections around literary or movie themes. Her handbags include an array of genres, from Marvel Comics to Agatha Christie mysteries to Ian Fleming’s spy novels.

The pocketbooks, which look to first-edition novels for cover inspiration, feature a lift-lock clasp and a detachable shoulder strap. (If you’re really looking for a reaction, wear one as a clutch.)

Le-Tan looks for books that have aesthetically interesting covers, of course. But the self-professed bookworm also tries to read as many of her “books” as she can. And she encourages her patrons to become familiar with their pocketbooks’ muses as well.

In addition to making handbags and minaudières, Le-Tan creates equally whimsical clothing. Think book covers but as all-over prints for a blouse or pants.

For her, well-dressed will always mean well-read.

Olympia Le-Tan is available at Neiman Marcus Westchester. For more, visit wps.olympialetan.com. 

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