She revolutionised the art of travelling light with her multimillion-dollar accessories brand, Mimco. Now Amanda Briskin-Rettig is taking a more low-key luxe approach, writes Eliza O'Hare.
Amanda Briskin-Rettig has built an entire career on the idea of travelling well. The designer launched her hugely successful accessories company, Mimco, in Melbourne in 1996 with a series of clever zip-up pouches designed to help organise packing, and banked a reported $45 million when she sold it in 2007.
Her new business is still all about bags and travelling well, but it's a totally different approach. While Mimco was unashamedly high street and mainstream, her new brand, A-Esque, is about luxury handcrafted pieces made locally in a Richmond atelier from the finest Italian leather.
"It all started with those Mimco pocket-bag mesh carry-alls. I owe it all to them," Briskin-Rettig says, "but A-Esque is grounded in the process of making the bags, expressing modernity through a focus on detail and quality."
The A-Esque Collins Street store is an oasis in the Melbourne CBD. Men's bags feature as well as women's and, rather than releasing seasonal collections, Briskin-Rettig refreshes the ranges with new injections of bags she loves whenever she feels like it. "I'm passionate about the experience of each bag, about a subtle and refined aesthetic that's not loud or too obviously identifiable," she says. "I would never put a bag I didn't love in the store. It wouldn't be there if I didn't love it.
"We combine traditional methods with modern techniques to define the A-Esque way. The design process is about building patterns from paper cuttings and steel knives. I draw on our archive of old Italian hardware, and we road-test each piece. Our quantities are limited by the handmade nature of how we produce."
The store sits in what was once a foreign-currency exchange booth at the Paris end of Collins Street.
"I was looking for a special little place that had a point of difference. I saw this and thought it would be fabulous to have a tiny store here," says Briskin-Rettig. "It's petite in a big-city landscape."
As much consideration went into the shop's design as she gives her range. "The store's interior had to reflect the craftsmanship of the bags," she says. "We found some really beautiful marble and hand-laid it, and sourced locally crafted furniture." She found an amazing family-run steelworks in Coburg, Victoria, to custom-make the wall-mounted steel brackets for the store.
Pocket-bags and pouches still play an integral role in Briskin-Rettig's designs, which means changing bags is a seamless process. And with travel-friendly, light-as-a-feather backpacks as well as covetable overnighters, travel is still an integral consideration.
"I always travel with bags that are light," she says. "I never use structured bags, and I pack extra soft bags inside my other bags in case I need extra luggage. I like to travel heavy. I want all my own things with me and I don't like having to buy things on the road."
A-Esque, 109 Collins St, Melbourne, Vic (03) 9639 7070, 555b Chapel St, South Yarra, Vic, (03) 9827 6686