New York—If there ever was an elixir that could stave off laziness or lackadaisical behavior, it would be to bottle up designer Aimee Kestenberg.
Since coming to New York from her native Australia five years ago, Kestenberg studied at Parsons The New School for Design, enrolled in six internships with the likes of Ralph Lauren Collection, Isaac Mizrahi Couture, Sass & Bide, Jill Stuart and Alexander McQueen, no less, apprenticed for three years at the prestigious House of Couture, was a three-time finalist and two-time winner at Independent Handbag Designer Awards (IHDA) and designed handbags and accessories at Li & Fung and Vince Camuto.
That was before she joined up with the Adoni Group last year to create her own namesake leather handbag brand (retails $128 to $328) that caught the notice (and orders) from retailers such as Macy’s and Nordstrom. Oh, did we mention that she also designed and executed a leather bag line for QVC, too? All this at the mere age of 26?
But for Kestenberg, who describes herself as a “lethal workaholic,” it’s all in a day’s work. In fact, there have been many full days of work in wholesale and retail since she was a child—all of which prepared the designer for a career she never would have imagined.
“It’s as if everything in my life experience lead me into accessories. I couldn’t have planned this trajectory any better,” she says.
As a youngster, Kestenberg accompanied her father, a giftware sales rep, to accounts and trade shows across Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia where she learned behind the scenes to merchandising. Her grandmother, a seamstress, taught Kestenberg how to sew and pattern make.
After graduating from a fine arts oriented high school, Kestenberg enrolled in industrial design at the prestigious Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. There Kestenberg honed her skills in product design, packaging, and meeting project challenges such as developing products for the blind.
“My education at RMIT was life changing. I learned to think in 3-D. I never imagine a handbag as a sketch. I see it in my mind in all dimensions, all sides,” she says.
‘A Perfectionist I Guess’
Yet RMIT wasn’t the only game changer for Kestenberg. Next she dreamed of New York and Parsons, the ultimate school for an ambitious designer. She applied and after fulfilling a tough test, was accepted to Parsons.
Her major was product design but her experience with internships for fashion brands and her apprentice work for House of Couture, a Brooklyn-based company that designs and makes accessories for designers and runways, Kestenberg caught the fashion bug and changed her major to fashion.
While she designed nonleather and leather handbags and accessories for mass brands, Kestenberg also unleashed her creative side with Jatalika (named for the women of her family), a couture accessories line of leathergoods and jewelry. Her Tammi Tales bejeweled evening bag modeled after the Blue Ring Octopus of her native Australia, took top honors from Swarovski at IHDA. And her nylon bag won the Kipling design award at IHDA, too.
Now with her own Aimee Kestenberg collection, she is infusing her lightweight and functional leather bags with touches usually found in high-end leather bags. There is decorative and functional hardware details, adjustable straps, hidden compartments for tablet computers or mobile phones, exceptional leathers in fashion colors, and tassel details. Inside are compartments that suit a busy professional with a fashion eye.
“I strive to make my handbags affordable but still in high quality, making them available for everyday use,” Kestenberg says.
Given her “psychotic visual memory” there’s never a stitch out of place, either. “I am a perfectionist I guess.”
As she prepares for her latest collection debuting next week at New York Market Week, Kestenberg is already thinking ahead to the next silhouettes and even other categories.
“There’s no time for rest, and frankly, I don’t want to rest. I love working.”
Yet rest assured, there’s plenty more to come from Aimee Kestenberg.
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