Handbag Queen

Nancy Gonzalez's colorful world: Amid chaos, handbag queen stays calm while creating whimsical designs

Amid chaos, handbag queen Nancy Gonzalez creates whimsical designs

Nancy Gonzalez handbags
The Purse Queen? Designer Nancy Gonzalez's handbags come in a variety of colors. Photo courtesy of Nancy Gonzalez
Nancy Gonzalez at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
During a recent Houston appearance, Nancy Gonzalez displayed one of her handbags as an onlooker photographed it. Photo by © Emile C Browne/Emile C Browne Photography
Nancy Gonzalez orchid handbag
Nancy Gonzalez orchid handbag. Courtesy of Nancy Gonzalez
Nancy Gonzalez handbags at Saks Fifth Avenue
A floral dotted handbag is a centerpiece of a display of Nancy Gonzalez clutches. Photo by Clifford Pugh
Guests holding Nancy Gonzalez creations at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
Guests at a Saks Fifth Avenue luncheon for Nancy Gonzalez display her handbags. Photo by © Emile C Browne/Emile C Browne Photography
A furry bag at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
Fur handbags are big — even in the summer, Gonzalez says. Photo by © Emile C Browne/Emile C Browne Photography
Colorful bags at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
Gonzalez says that her customers love color. Shown here, a rectangular clutch in hot pink and a fan shaped clutch reflecting the architecture of Seville, Spain. Photo by © Emile C Browne/Emile C Browne Photography
More bags at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
A crocodile handbag comes in dark or neutral tones as well as a variety of colors. Photo by © Emile C Browne/Emile C Browne Photography
Nancy Gonzalez handbags
Nancy Gonzalez at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
Nancy Gonzalez orchid handbag
Nancy Gonzalez handbags at Saks Fifth Avenue
Guests holding Nancy Gonzalez creations at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
A furry bag at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
Colorful bags at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014
More bags at Nancy Gonzalez at Saks Fifth Avenue November 2014

With cutthroat competition and the demand for new styles all the time, the handbag business is so chaotic that you don't often find a designer in a quiet place. But Nancy Gonzalez seems unusually grounded.

While in Houston recently to meet customers and select fashion media at Saks Fifth Avenue, Gonzalez emanates a positive glow that's absolutely calming. What's her secret?

 Despite her hectic schedule, she spends at least two hours a day in meditation and prayer — "trying to listen to myself." 

"Trying to be happy," she says with a big laugh. "My biggest responsibility in life is to enjoy."

Despite her hectic schedule, Gonzalez spends at least two hours a day in meditation and prayer — "trying to listen to myself," she says. "I believe in that. I think that everything comes from inside. You can't give what you don't have. I really work seriously on that.

"Life is life. I really think that it's your responsibility how to face everything because you can't control many things. The only thing that you really can control is how to see things, how to face them and deal with everything you have to deal with every day."

Sunny life

Her sunny take on life is reflected in her handbags, which are colorful, luxurious and fun to show off. Since launching her business 15 years ago, Gonzalez has built a loyal clientele that crave her latest looks. She produces more than 400 styles a year, manufacturing in her home country of Colombia, where she has built a thriving business with 400 employees.

Her son, Santiago Barberi Gonzalez, oversees sales, marketing, advertising, public relations and stores — "everything that has to be done but the bags," he says — while she concentrates on design and production. "I love production," she notes. "It's really a difficult part to develop everything — the colors, the materials. It's a long process and a huge challenge."

 "I really have a lot to learn, but that never ends. All of the time we are looking for new things." 

While colorful crocodile handbags have always been a mainstay of the brand, the collection in stores now also showcases flowers and kaleidoscope patterns, reflecting the tiles of the Moorish palaces in Seville, Spain. For spring 2015, the inspiration shifts to Venice, Santiago explains.

"In the 1430s, civilization was transformed from these two cities. In Seville, the New World was coming and in Venice the Renaissance entered. Venice has particular colors, terrazzo and Bellini, where oil painting was invented, so the colors are translucent and bright . . . . (and) it's all about the architecture of the floors. In Rome you look at the ceilings. In Venice you look at the floors."

Nancy Gonzalez really can't explain her success — "To be honest I don't know. I think it's a miracle. A lot of work. A lot of help from God," she says — but she concedes that she has created a product that women like.

"It helps that I'm a customer. I know they we all need different things, new things, surprises and beautiful things. But at the same time they have to function. Not heavy things where you put a lot of things inside. I think that helps.

"And listening to the customer who has a lot to teach me. I really have a lot to learn, but that never ends. All of the time we are looking for new things. The most important part is the emotion. It's something that attracts you that makes you want to have something."