Mother of Invention: Yudit M Handbags, WWD

Made of hard shapes with sensual edges, intricate with sculptural layers of reptilian and metallic leathers, each Yudit M handbag feels exotically old Hollywood. Trapezoidal shoulder bags hang by a large leather hoop for a strap, richly decorated by curvy, contrasting cutouts of calfskins on the top-flap. Evening clutches and wristlets are detailed with the same swirls of gold and silver and snake-embossed skins, and adorned with Swarovski crystals, hand-sewn on with a technique not popular since the 1950’s.

Named for its designer, Los Angeles-based artist Judit Maymon, Yudit M’s homey beginnings contrast its luxe look: the line launched as another one of Maymon’s handmade gifts to her daughters, who were hunting for one-of-a-kind, high-quality handbags.

“The bags she came up with were just jaw-dropping,” described Maymon’s younger daughter, Kamea Bitton, who is also sales and marketing director for the independent handbag line. “All three of us wore them over the weekend, from Barney’s to Target, Pink’s Hotdogs to Spago’s.” Phone numbers of admirers were collected, and Bitton later called and invited them to a sale after about 40 more bags were made. In three hours, the house was sold out, and Maymon and Bitton decided to turn Yudit M into an actual business.

Italy was scoured for the finest leathers — croc- and snake-embossed calfskins are used on the exterior, red goat kidskin for the lining — , a brushed nickel “Yudit M” logo plate was designed, and a distinctive line of handmade handbags was built. Within the first sixth months of establishing Yudit M, Bitton secured accounts with Fred Segal, Corsa, and the Bellagio Mirage, and sales mimicked Yudit M’s initial unofficial one.

“We sold out completely,” said Schyvonne Charles, store manager of Fred Segal Feet.

“They were gone in three weeks,” echoed Chris Unick, partner of accessory boutique Corsa.

Buyers, like Jane Arrendale Sims of Blue Genes boutique, voice the originality of Yudit M as reason for picking up the line. “We found Yudit M during L.A. market week,” said Sims. “We walked into the showroom and they caught our attention immediately. We loved the unique designs. They were definitely a look we hadn’t seen before.”

Despite such fresh success — including an estimated $300,000 of sales for their second year — Yudit M’s price points ($185-265, wholesale) can dampen deals. “It’s still very tough to be a little known company in the luxury market,” said Bitton. “We use such expensive work and materials that when people get to see and touch the bags, they also understand the price. But it’s not easy.”

In hopes of building a bigger brand name, Yudit M is moving towards more accessible accessories — Papa & K’s hand-painted belts ($25-60, wholesale) pair perfect with jeans, and Papa & K for Yudit M’s softer carryall bags ($90-150, wholesale) work all day for the urban cowgirl on the go. “Many times when I do trade shows I have buyers who love the bags but the price is just too high for their customer. I hate that,” said Bitton. “So we decided to create a sister line which would have more of my dad’s personality, something more dressed down with that hippie soul.” An accomplished artist in his own right, Bitton’s father Herzel Maymon designed and sold belts during the 1960’s and Seventies. “He was making the belts back in the Sixties exactly the same way we’re doing them today,” continued Bitton. “When he made them in the Sixties he was selling them all over the world, even to Macy’s, not really knowing who they were at the time.”

The line was picked up by Intermix nationwide. Bettina Duncan at Fred Segal in Santa Monica and Jennifer Kaufman in the Beverly Center will carry the line this fall.

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