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.
- Donatienne designer Nikki Erwin.
- Entrance to the Donatienne studio.
- The Megan clutch.
- Erwin at work.
- Three colors of Emme.
- Inspiration board above Erwin’s workspace.
- The Barrett and Nikki in tan.
- The designer, at her desk, said “When I was really little I knew I was going to be a designer."
- This Camille clutch was Erwin’s first design and one of the brand’s top sellers.
- Donatienne signage.
- Inventory, the studio at a glance.
- Erwin hanging out with the perfect totes for a Saturday afternoon.
Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
Donatienne designer and owner Nikki Erwin grew up in Malibu and as a child knew "I was going to be a designer," but when she got older and entered Pepperdine University, the music industry sparked her interest. She worked with a music producer for a while before she realized it wasn't for her and returned to her roots, working with friend Jennifer Meyer as she launched her jewelry line. Eventually, Erwin decided to start her own label, a line of colorful handbags that would fit everyone from a mommy to a tomboy or business woman, she named it "Donatienne."
Erwin, who says she is inspired by everything from color, fabric to an entire outfit, starts her design with a rough sketch which she then turns into a felt mock-up that she takes to her pattern-maker. When it comes to those clever handbag names, they're actually based on her friends and their personalities. "They were initially supposed to be named after girlfriends," she explained. "But then the guys started asking." Fun fact: The Bunny Tote was named after her boyfriend. Aww.
We caught up with the gorgeous designer straight off a trip to Coachella and found out all about her obsession with handbags and that hot, new collab with Always Judging.
What's the story behind the name Donatienne?
"I first heard the name many years ago, when my dear friend introduced me to his friend, named Donatienne. I thought it was such a beautiful, albeit unique name. Some time later, I learned there was an Avenue Donatienne in the Suburbs of Paris. I am an LA girl through and through, but Paris comes a close second, so I thought the name was perfect."
"I've had a long love affair with handbags. I love bright colors and the only thing I could find was Balenciaga. I wanted something that was affordable, cool and that I could keep forever."
Tell us about your collab with LA Blogger, Courtney, of Always Judging.
"I actually learned of Courtney through instagram and was really into her work. I invited her to come to the offices and check out the line [and] she expressed interest in collaborating. We came up with the construction of the design and then researched the fun stuff: materials, leathers, interiors and hardware. Courtney was involved in every stage of creation, and after only a few tries, we had the Donatienne x Always Judging collaboration bag!"
What's your signature style handbag?
"As much as I try to deny it, I am the "Mary Poppins" type. Anything you could ever need is in my handbag. The next most important thing for me is color. Lastly, I need comfort. It's not easy to carry a lot with you everywhere. So my signature handbag is big, bright and comfy."
Describe your design process.
"I try to make the process as organic as possible. I have a hard time sticking to the fashion calendar, I tend to design bags when I'm inspired by something or when I become frustrated in the lack of design in another bag. I immediately start coming up with ways to make a particular style of a bag more accessible, comfortable or useful."
What WeHo spots do you like to hit up after a long day?
"No question, Goal Sports Café is my spot. It is just downstairs from the Donatienne office. I watch all my hockey games there and they have the best food and about 20 beers on tap. There are also always cute boys ;). My girls and I also love to eat at Dominic's and Laurel Hardware. Good food, good drinks, good vibes."
What's Nikki's off-duty style?
"Off duty Nikki is all about the accessories. Jewelry, hats, glasses, shoes and of course a great handbag. I love the way I feel in a great pair of jeans and a worn in tee. With that as my canvas, I can't go wrong."
Handbags are so personal, what are key factors a gal should look for in finding the perfect match?
"A great looking bag is so important but comfort is everything. Just like a great pair of shoes, no matter how cute they are, if they aren't comfy, they don't leave the closet. With all the different shapes and sizes of people out in the world, bags need to fit you, too. If the bag fits, you wear it!"
· Donatienne [Official Site]
· Donatienne's Nikki Erwin on Her Celeb-Approved Mom Bags [Racked]
· UNIF on Sarcasm and Their "Soft and Grimy" Aesthetic [Racked]
· For Love & Lemons Walks Us Through Their Dreamy LA Studio [Racked]
· Inside Johnny Depp-Favorite Sandast's DTLA Showroom [Racked]