Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
As evidenced by our city's top multi-hyphenates, a sixth sense for good form is the secret to moving effortlessly through the design world's many creative disciplines. LA-based designer Briana Anter is one of those talents who's successfully channeled her keen eye for sleek lines and killer style into one uber rad backpack line, Harper Ave, which popped up alongside Cult Gaia's retro frocks a few weeks back.
Inspired by architectural masterminds like Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, Anter's perfect patent leather bags ($209) are the hands-free carryalls that would've totally earned us coolest-kid-in-the-cafeteria status (Kendall Jenner's already a fan). Rather than hunt down a time machine, we're just as happy to sling these over our present-day shoulders. Seeing as these super sweet sacks woke up the curious middle schoolers within us, we had to learn more about the architecture/art history grad-turned-bag maker—click on the jump to read on.
So what's the story behind your label's name, Harper Ave?
"Well, when I returned to sunny LA from grad school in London I moved with a couple girlfriends into a place on Harper Ave in WeHo. I was in a bit of limbo, doing freelance design work, while both my roomies were starting these wonderful creative companies. Funny enough, I learned that when my father moved to LA and started his company, he also lived on Harper Ave. So when I started thinking about this whole backpack thing, it occurred to me that our street carries a bit of entrepreneurial luck. Appropriately, the street also happens to be densely populated with beautiful historic buildings."
Tell us about your background—what were you doing before you got into the backpack game?
"I grew up in a very creative household and ended up studying art and architecture history at UCSB, and then continued to study historical architecture in grad school. I was always torn between my love for history and my love for being creative, but there is very little you can do with a history degree, especially when you also have strong creative urges. All along the way I was also very passionate about cooking, and after working in a restaurant kitchen and for an interior designer, I was certain I would either open a restaurant or go into restaurant design. While I was thinking about that and doing random freelance work, the backpack idea kind came to me and led me in a path I never imagined."
That's a big jump! Was there a specific "a-ha" moment that inspired you to make the leap into designing bags?
"When I moved back to LA and was working freelance I found that I was all over the place. I would have to pack up my purse and a tote bag for the day, to hold my normal everyday stuff like makeup, my laptop, and sometimes an outfit change or heels [...] I felt super sloppy and scattered all the time, always was forgetting things, and then I starting thinking about how one nice big backpack would solve my problems.
When I started looking for one I realized that they were either too casual [...] or too expensive and small and couldn't be man-handled through a hectic day. There was no happy medium that I could take to the gym, to meetings, out at night, while traveling, to the sandy wet beach, in the rain, or just as an everyday bag.
The 'a-ha' moment then came when I realized that every time I imagined an ideal backpack I would think about it in terms and principles I learned in modern architecture classes: A polished and cleaned up design, practicality, form following function, eliminating superfluous ornament [...] And that was basically how I changed gears and entered the fashion accessory world, which I still know nothing about, but I think that when something is designed with guiding principles that make absolute sense, and it comes through in the product, that's pretty much all it takes."
The Mies backpack via Harper Ave
Who (or what) are your design muses?
"I have many, but I think modern architecture and architects had the biggest impact on my designs. Take Mies Van Der Rohe for example. He said things like, 'No design is possible until the materials with which you design are completely understood,' 'God is in the details,' and 'Less is more.' Applying those principles, I studied different materials carefully and learned that a synthetic patent leather would be most durable, excellent for wet weather, and look most polished, while natural leather would be comfiest against the skin, and have some nice stretch so it molds to your back a bit."
Did you find any challenges when you were researching fabrics and materials?
"It is completely unconventional to mix real and synthetic leathers in the same product, not to mention a logistical nightmare since they come from different suppliers and need different sewing techniques. But thinking about the qualities each material offered, I couldn't have it any other way and made it work."
Is there a specific work of architecture that inspires you most?
Mies Van der Rohe's iconic Farnsworth House is basically a glass box set between two white concrete planes, so it abstracts the boundary between the occupant and the beautiful forrest surroundings, and is a consummate expression of his dictum 'less is more.' This inspired the Farnsworth backpack, which has a white front panel and crystal clear PVC sides. Every backpack has a story like this and though most of the consumers who buy them in stores never know the story behind their specific backpack, the inspiration behind it made for a much better finished product."
What do you have planned in the future for Harper Ave?
"I am very careful about what I want to make next. I am not very good at knowing what will be trending, so I draw design inspiration from timeless modern architecture, and color inspiration from timeless art. I like the idea of accessories that are carefully designed to be both practical and polished, and am working on some new backpacks and cosmetic cases, and will hopefully branch out from there. I would rather take the process slowly and create thoughtful and carefully designed products than just expand because buyers are asking for more variety. "
Got any recent discoveries around town you'd like to share?
"I am in a Mexican food phase at the moment. I love Yxta in Downtown, it has a lovely atmosphere and everything they make is perfection—even their simple homestyle soups that come perfectly garnished with crunchy slivers of cabbage and radish. I also love Tinga on La Brea, a quirky spot that kind of makes hangover/grubby style Mexican food (the chef isn't even Mexican!) and have some really trippy art on the walls, especially in the bathroom: drawings of tacos and burritos with wings or as unicorns."
· Harper Ave [Official Site]
· Otaat's Luxe Leather Goods Are Inspired by Form & Function [Racked]