More than 30 years ago, Joan and Bill Martin came up with the idea of creating sophisticated handbags with Italian flair at reasonable prices (most remain under $400). They picked the name Brahmin because it reflected their New England roots and had an old-school ring to it.
The business, which began in the basement of their Massachusettes home, has grown into a retail juggernaut, found in many department stores (including Dillard's, Macy's and Nordstrom) and in company-owned retail shops in Dallas, Atlanta, Birmingham and Newport, Rhode Island.
In advance of a personal appearance at Dillard's in The Woodlands Mall on Friday to tout the Brahmin Tuscan Tri-texture Collection, Joan Martin talked about hot handbag colors for fall, biggest fashion mistakes and best style advice in an email conversation.
CultureMap: Why has Brahmin been successful?
Joan Martin: Because we have always listened to our customers. I began by designing handbags that were functional and beautiful. I then went into the market and studied how women used our handbags, what they liked, what they wanted to be better, what we could do to improve and most importantly, what they wanted and couldn’t find.
Then, finally I started creating things that they didn’t know they wanted yet but adore them when they have them, like the jewelry pocket or Brahmin’s signature strap extender. We continue to deliver exceptional quality and beautifully unique handbags that people love.
CM: What is your most popular item?
JM: Our signature Melbourne embossed croco leather has been a customer favorite for many years. We offer it in many different colors that highlight the beautiful texture and different details of the leather. Each Brahmin is handcrafted – both stitched and painted — that people really appreciate and collect them.
"I love getting to wear test our handbags, so I am constantly trading in a new style or color."
I was very cautious when I bought the first Brahmin croco in Italy in the early 1980s. People responded enthusiastically but I still wasn’t sure how long I should continue it. I soon became absolutely in love with the incredibly beautiful hand coloring on our Italian croco, and soon learned, done properly, if the croco looked good in the leather factory it would be a bag people would love.
I have cornered this market. Our teams understand using croco on bag is an art — no one is better, from our “plain” Melbourne to mixed media (combining Melbourne with two other textures and corks). I am proud that we center each panel of a bag and even match the inside collars — check it out!
CM: What is the hot color for handbags this fall?
JM: A dark rich red is very big this season. It feels exceptionally "fall" and pairs well with some many outfits. Brahmin’s black cherry color is the perfect color to show off this trend.
CM: How did the Tuscan Tri-Collection collaboration with Dillard's come about?
JM: We have a long-standing relationship with Dillard's. They have been a great partner to the brand. We decided to highlight this partnership by putting together Brahmin Week at Dillard’s. In addition to our event in the Woodlands store, I will also be hosting an event at Dillard’s in Baton Rouge on Saturday.
CM: How many handbags do you own? Do you have a favorite?
JM: Too many to count! I love getting to "wear test" our handbags, so I am constantly trading in a new style or color. One of my favorite shapes is the Vivian. It is such a classic ladylike bag. I also love the new Carina — which is the perfect bag for evening — that can be a clutch or has a detachable shoulder strap.
CM: What is your best piece of style advice?
JM: Be your best self – find your best look, nod to trends but don’t let them rule you!
CM: What is the biggest fashion mistake a person makes?
JM: Dressing a part instead of being their true self — and not owning an elegant handbag.
Joan Martin will make a personal appearance at the Dillard's Woodlands store Friday from 11 am until 2 pm. She will be at the Dillard's in Baton Rouge on Saturday from 11 am to 2 pm.