Dec 4, 2013

Miss MAK Designs: quaint boutique on St- Laurent Boulevard

By Lydia Lawrence     

It was nearly 2:30 in the afternoon when I arrived at Miss MAK Designs; a quaint boutique on
St-Laurent Boulevard, where I was to be awarded a guided tour of the renowned family-owned handbag manufacturer, H&V Leather Goods. The company was founded in Lebanon in 1967 by two Armenian brothers, Harout and Vartan Keverian. However, the increasing chaos brought on by the Lebanese Civil War urged Harout to immigrate to Canada in 1989 along with his wife and two young children.Harout and his family settled in Montreal in 1990, where he resumed the business of handcrafted luxury goods. Since then, Harout and his wife, Arsho have undertaken the task of promoting Due Fratelli, an exclusive brand renowned for its flawless quality and timeless designs.
The tour was to be given by their daughter Mary-Ann, a childhood friend of mine, who at the age of twenty, single handedly launched her own brand of handbags which she aptly named “Miss MAK,” an acronym of her full name. At twenty-eight years of age, she is already considered to be one of the most revered women in the industry, and her customers are as much in love with her as they are with her designs.  

The buzzer went off as I opened the door and walked into the sun filled store, where I was instantly surrounded by walls lined with multicolored leather purses and accessories.

“Hello?” said a voice from the back.

I turned a corner and found mother and daughter seated gracefully at their desks. They both rose to greet me with warm hugs and kisses. They were both busy, I knew, taking note of the pile of hastily drawn sketches of germinating designs on Mary-Ann’s desk and the flood of emails blinking on her computer screen. Remarkably, her façade of cool sophistication is genuine. I couldn’t help but look her over, taking note of her perfectly groomed thick main of shiny chestnut hair that fell around her shoulders and down her back, the bold jewelry at her hands, her trim pants and designer top and the funky zebra print flats at her feet. In that moment, I concluded that Mary-Ann’s position as a creative designer was not only a title she assumed, rather she was a personification of her brand; versatile, bold and innovative.

“Do you want to have lunch now?” she asked, “or would you rather we have the tour first?”

“The tour,” I replied, full of curiosity.

“This way, darling,” she said, motioning to me with her manicured fingers.

I had never been inside a factory before, and I was taken aback by the foreign environment. It was an organized mess, with heaps of fabric clumped together between heavy machinery and assembly tables, but watching her smoothly navigate me across the threshold I could sense she was in her element. I knew close to nothing about handbag manufacturing and had neglected to do any research prior to my visit. As I was about to find out, bringing a handbag or a purse to life was a deeply involved process.

It all begins with a sketch, which a skilled pattern maker will use to create a paper model of it out of cardboard. Before this can be done however, the materials and colors must be chosen. We walked over to table strewn with identical square pieces of plastic-covered-material. Mary-Ann picked one up and removed the plastic, revealing a soft matt of baby-ostrich-printed leather with a base of blue suede.

“So, what we do,” she said, “is we get the suede and then we get the foils from Italy. This allows for many options.  So the material can either be baby ostrich, calfskin, cowhide or even a boa finish.” She guided me to the assembly table next.

“These are the assemblers,” she said, making the introductions. “What they will do is assemble the leather cutouts and stitch them all together. Once that’s done, it will go to the hardware section where the handles, zippers, pockets and any other accessories will be added. The next stage is the finishing,” she said, pointing to another table. “That’s when each product is checked for defects and then boxed and shipped.” She was making it all sound so easy, but I knew it was far from the truth.

I followed her back to the entrance of the factory and she led me back down the hall to the showroom. I walked into a bright rectangular room lined with samples of both the Due Fratelli and Miss MAK brands.
“The showroom is where I work with the retailers,” she explained.

 “So, how do you do it?” I asked. “You draw these, make samples and then sell it?”
“Exactly,” she replied. “I spent over three months on a collection for one of our current clients. All my products are guaranteed for life, so if ever a client has a damaged product and they send it back to me ten years later, I will still repair it.” I stared at her, amazed.
“And they are all light weight,” she said. “Go to any other well known brand, such as Michael Kors, Fendi, Chanel…these are some of the heaviest bags on the market. A woman should not carry more than ten percent of her body weight,” she added.  Unconsciously, I reached up and adjusted my overstuffed shoulder bag.
Miss MAK designs is also a very functional and versatile brand,” she said, holding up a cross-body purse which she easily converted into clutch and then into a belt bag.

Due Fratelli has more classic shapes,” she said, walking over to her father’s side of the collection. “The bags all have clean lines and many are designer inspired shapes but modernized,” she said, holding up a classic Grace Kelly purse.

“One of our signature Due Fratelli bags is this clutch,” she said, picking up a caramel toned hand bag from off the shelf. “It converts into a hand bag and then it converts into a shoulder bag. It’s a three in one; a day to night. So you can carry this with you during the day and at night you don’t have to change your purse, all you have to do is fold it over.”
“Did your father invent that?” I asked, stupefied.
“Yes,” she replied, very matter-of-factly.  
 “That is incredible!” I exclaimed, genuinely impressed.
“Well, that’s my story darling. The one-and-only-MAK. Shall we do lunch now? I know this fabulous place in little Italy that you are just going to love.”
We walked back to her desk where she gathered her purse and keys and then we went out the back entrance of the factory. As we walked through the parking lot, we passed by a large graffiti mural and she stopped to study it with a twinkle in her eye. A new idea was being born. We reached her car; a polished white BMW, and we climbed in. There was a pile of fresh sketches and notes next to her seat and she glanced at them briefly as she started the engine.
“What do you think of a purse that has GPS tracking?” she asked, with a smile. I turned to face her and began to laugh. What a girl!

Miss MAK Designs
110-9600 Blvd. St-Laurent
Montreal, Quebec H2N1R2
(877) 382-9889
Monday to Friday (excluding Holidays), 10am-6pm