With movie-star looks and a handbag collection nearly every major celebrity craves, V. Bruce Hoeksema is a designer to be reckoned with. After more than two decades at Valentino, Hoeksema, a former model, launched his VBH Italian design house in 2000 and quickly became a red-carpet favorite.
His understated leather clutches and handbags, handcrafted in Florence with high-end materials such as lizard, alligator, python, leather and suede, have been carried by Jennifer Lopez, Gwen Stefani, Eva Longoria, Mary J. Blige and Nicole Kidman.
During a recent trunk show at Neiman Marcus at Galleria Houston, Hoeksema discussed his experience at Valentino, world travels and why so many celebrities covet his designs.
CultureMap: At what point did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career as a fashion designer?
Vernon Bruce Hoeksema: I kind of fell into it, actually. I've always had an interest in design. I began studying architecture in college and switched my degree to business administration. After I graduated from college, I moved to New York City.
"VBH handbags are for confident women who don’t need a logo to define themselves."
I was recruited by a modeling agency which later led me to Italy. I modeled for a few years in Europe and then I switched over to the business and design side of the fashion industry. That's when I began my career at Valentino. After leaving Valentino in 1999, I launched my own luxury brand in 2000.
CM: How was your experience working at Valentino?
VBH: It was amazing. Valentino is one of the great masters, so it was definitely a great education. What makes Valentino so great is his ability to make elegance and sexy coexist without being vulgar or unsophisticated. His use of colors and materials taught me a great deal.
CM: What was the first piece you designed?
VBH: At VBH, we design both leather goods and jewelry. The first piece I designed was a handbag called the Manila Envelope, which is our iconic evening clutch. It’s been on every red carpet and every celebrity that you can imagine. The Manila is a very modern yet sophisticated handbag, and it’s extremely functional. When I designed it, I wanted to create something that is timeless with a modern edge.
CM: Can you describe your design process?
VBH: When creating leather goods, the design process always begins with a sketch. We own our own factory in Florence. So I go to the factory with the designs and explain them to the model maker, and production begins from that point forward. I will even go into the factory and cut and work on the first samples myself.
I am able to go into the factory and produce a bag on my own, which is not very typical of designers. But I think it’s a very important aspect to know and understand the production process because it enables you to understand how the bag is constructed. When I design, I always have the reality of knowing what can and cannot be done and how the materials interact with each other.
CM: Where do you find inspiration?
VBH: Inspiration for me is a difficult question because I believe the basis of inspirations is all of your life experiences. I’ve been very fortunate to have lived in different countries all of my life and experience different cultures. I’ve seen many different things, and I’ve absorbed them.
With the leather goods, you have to take into consideration the practicality and the use. I also strive to create handbags with a modern, chic edge. I’m also very attentive to quality — how the bag is constructed and the materials used. At VBH, we don’t advertise our bags; we simply depend on word of mouth. Women buy our bags and tell their friends.
CM: VBH handbags are for women who…
VBH: VBH handbags are for women who are confident in themselves. Women who don’t need a logo to define themselves and want to express their own personality without being a walking advertisement for a brand. I design bags for women who have a respect and desire for quality goods.
CM: What can we expect to see from VBH this fall?
VBH: We presented the fall collection in Paris in late February. It features a very beautiful color called tanzanite. It’s an amazing blue-purple color. We will also feature a lot of berry colors and fuchsia.
CM: If you could personally design a handbag for anyone in the world, who would it be?
VBH: What I find very satisfying is that we have such a broad client base. A lot of celebrities have carried our bags — Michelle Obama, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyoncé, Gwyneth Paltrow and many more! I couldn't ask for anything else.