Is it any wonder, then, that the Miami native grew up to be an accessories designer - one whose work has been recognized by the CFDA and snapped up by the likes of Barneys and Opening Ceremony her first season out?
Growing up in an art-filled house (her mother co-owned the contemporary gallery Corcoran & Greenberg) instilled an early love of color and design, which is very much in evidence in Fleming’s own classic-with-a-twist creations, which are one part fanciful to two parts functional.
“I wanted to update the idea of classic and make a new kind of heritage collection that I hope my grandchildren will be carrying one day,” Fleming - who studied fashion design at Parsons and has worked at the Gap, Club Monaco and Michael Kors - told The Fashion Informer one recent afternoon in her East Village apartment. “I have a lot of things from my grandmother that are very classic, but she also had an interesting twist to her personality, like my mom. You know, they liked to have fun with things - whether it’s the shape or the color, there’s something bold about it. So that’s what I molded my line around, making it a little bit more modern and, in some cases, kind of futuristic.”
Take, for instance, the bags with which Fleming launched her eponymous collection in spring 2009 after leaving her post as Design Director of Accessories at Tory Burch, where she worked for four years (during which time Burch was nominated for CFDA Accessories Designer of the Year). Fleming began by creating a signature – and instantly iconic – geometric interlocking K logo, which is seamlessly integrated into all her bag designs and was inspired by the voodoo symbol on a vintage Haitian hand towel she got from her mom and a watch ad from the sixties she found while leafing though old magazines in the FIT library. (Fittingly, the Haitian symbol turned out to represent “commerce” – a very good sign, indeed.)
Limiting herself to four styles - a clutch, shoulder bag, satchel and hobo - she then began sketching designs. The Kate bag, with its corrugated stitching and funky-yet-familiar silhouette, was her first creation, made all the more unique by the fact that its tonal chain strap was treated with car paint – a handbag first.
“I just really like monochromatic things,” said Fleming while showing us one of her many collage filled inspiration books, which evolve from season to season. “And at that time, it just seemed really new to have a bag be all one color. I was looking at a car and thought, ‘this is amazing. It’s metal, why can’t hardware be like that? And why isn’t it like that?’ So I started researching what people use to paint cars and kept pushing until I found a hardware manufacturer that would do it on the chain.” And while the original Kate chain was brass – which is durable but very heavy – Fleming has since switched to (much lighter) aluminum.
During the making of the fall 2009 collection, Fleming and her fiancé were living in a haunted apartment in the Flatiron District and she kept having mysterious falls and mishaps, the most serious of which required her to be bedridden for two weeks (“I later found out that in the early 1900s, the landlord had set fire to the building in the middle of the night to get insurance money and a lot of people died,” she told us. “And before that the building had been a boys home”). This ooky-spooky experience – and the film Rosemary’s Baby – inspired the current collection’s deep purple and amethyst hues and the Loewy bag, a chic, Mia Farrow-worthy silhouette that debuted this season.
For spring 2010 (dubbed “Castaway Treasures” and based on her experiences snorkeling in Miami and a book her father had given her on trout), Fleming began as she always does, by putting together a book of myriad inspirations and then sketching out her ideas. After initially considering – and then ruling out – using fish skin (“Real fish skin smells really bad”), she hit on the idea of using python, which resembles fish but without all the icky olfactory issues, resulting in the Ocean Batik, Goldfish, Oil Slick, Sand and Clownfish collections. The holographic silver Jane clutch – “I call it the Minnow bag” – is especially gorgeous. (The Jane clutch can also be seen in Fleming’s Art Basel Miami pop-up shop and on eBay, where she’s auctioning off 16 artist-customized clutches between now and December 24th to benefit the Bas Fisher Invitational, an alternative art space in Miami helmed by Naomi Fisher and Hernan Bas.)
Fleming – who confided she’s “dying” to add shoes, scarves and costume jewelry to her line - is continuing with the fish theme for fall 2010 (utilitarian fly fishing, this time), coupled with the Aurora Borealis (a recurring inspiration). She walked us through yet another evocative inspiration book, filled with lush images of the colorful night sky and migrating schools of fish. “I do books instead of boards because I can take them with me when I travel,” she explained while her super mellow Chihuahua, Rocco, napped in her lap.
After unfolding an old sketch (which looked more like a life-sized handbag blueprint) Fleming pulled out some magical looking python swatches she’d just received from her tannery in Italy and waxed eloquent – “It’s python, but to me it’s like some mystical winter snake who lives in Iceland or something; it’s chic but a little bit off and otherworldly” – before telling us about the shearling, back issues of National Geographic and multi-strapped vintage wicker fly fishing bag that will also feature, somehow, in the finished fall 2010 collection.
How, exactly? Sorry, bubula, you’ll have to wait until February to find out.
Photos © The Fashion Informer/Lauren David Peden