An Iced Tea with Natasha Barrault
Natasha Barrault, a chameleon of creativity, has shed the skin of every medium in the art of making things: from songwriting to documentary filmmaking, from ribbon connoisseur and bag designer to landscape and interior designer and back again.
Her pursuits have lead her from Paris to London, from Los Angeles to Tunisia and the South of France. Her namesake limited editions accessories brand, Natasha Barrault, produces pieces that women want to hold. Built on a collision of worlds old and new, she brings coastal consciousness to French design through Tunisian and French craftsmanship. Clutches and pouches in sleek geometrical patterns are sewn by hand from vintage French trimmings and American necktie fabrics.
Where did your inspiration come from for your brand?
I was living in Los Angeles, working as an interior and landscape designer, and there was a fabric store I was working with on a regular basis. The owner had bought a warehouse full of incredible necktie fabrics from the 60’s and 70’s from a mill on the East Coast. I was already getting into the idea of designing bags again, so I started experimenting with them, inspired by their dynamic patterns. Then in France, I found these stunning vintage French trimmings that inspired a second collection. I also use a woven fabric made in Tunisia, so it’s a real mix but there’s a common «thread» which is to use already existing materials, or fabrics that are produced by artisans. We may have enough fabric or trimming to do 20 or 30 bags in a given colour or pattern, or we may only be able to do five, so each bag is part of a limited edition. I started the company in April of last year but of course if I include the months of research and experiments, it’s been longer than that.
Is it true you had a couture accessories company in London prior to this?
Early 90’s to early 00’s. Back then, I used a lot of ribbons which are a huge part of my DNA. I’m ribbon girl, it’s my superpower. Some of the bags had mouth blown glass handles or closures -another craft that is present in Tunisia that I want to explore again-. Some bags used fabrics pleated in London (by Cement Pleating, also used at the time by Koji Tatsuno). I was selling to the best stores: Barney’s in N.Y and in Japan, Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel, Browns and Harvey Nichols in London, Takashiyma in Japan, Joyce in Hong Kong and more…
How did your work in couture inspire this brand?
Well, I do like things that are fancy, I mean, I’m not like that, I’m not fancy, but I love a sort of preciousness of things. I suppose I like shiny things, and gold, the girl in me that is expressing herself through these, while I dress like a nun most of the time. And of course my love of crafts plays a big part, all the incredible artisans of the couture world and beyond, crafts and skills we can find around the world and that tend to disappear.
How did you decide to produce in Tunisia?
When I was putting my collection together, playing around with prototypes, my Tunisian cousin suggested I went there. I think I always found balance by being abroad, at least some of the time. I couldn’t do it all in France, now that I am here more. So I was interested in exploring the possibility. I found a leather workshop and two textile workshops and got started. There is a lot of craft in Tunisia, tailors on every street corner, embroiderers, weavers, seamstresses… I’m always on the look out because there are so many skilled artisans, depending on where you go, so that’s a major source of inspiration. It takes a certain amount of energy, but it’s super interesting in terms of crafts and what you can do.
How involved are you in the production process?
Very. I’ve spent a lot of time in Tunisia now and I am very fond of it, in spite of the occasional challenges. I go every six to eight weeks. I also really wanted to do something in France and I‘ve started to work with “L’Atelière” a textile recycling and production facility that’s part of a charity organisation, «Les Foyers de l’Oiseau Bleu». They provide housing for victims of domestic violence, mostly women and their children and «L’Atelière», under that umbrella, employs some of these women as well as others in need. It’s a great work environment close to my home in the south of France.
What made you become conscious of sustainable fashion?
I have a great love for fashion but it is by no means the most important thing in my life. I am interested in politics, economics, science, all forms of Art, and I can’t separate fashion from these other fields. It’s part of a whole, and we are too. That comes with age maybe, or the urgency of finding solutions to the predicament we put ourselves in as a species. It is impossible to do a fashion line without taking into consideration the way you make things, the way you sell things, the way people are treated, the way people feel working with you and your brand. I use vintage materials whenever possible, and if they’re not vintage, the way they are produced matters. I don’t have a real interest in producing these on a massive scale, I’d rather earn a living and be happy with the way I’m doing things. In the 90’s we weren’t even really thinking about this. The world definitely has changed, but in many ways, my bags at that time were made sustainably. I had a workshop in London, then one in Paris, everything was always locally produced, almost entirely locally sourced. Everything was made in small batches as well, because each accessory was so labour intensive that you could only produce so many in one season. Bear in mind, this was before the days of fast fashion, before the internet and a gazillion brands and stores selling worldwide. Of course now there is so much at stake, doing things in a responsible way has become an absolute priority, but it just seems common sense really.
How do you see the brand evolving?
Well I’ve added a daywear collection, produced in France at l’Atelière. I hate really big so called handbags so that is not something that I think I will ever do, but bags in this new collection are big enough for some day-time essentials, and they still retain the same feel as the more precious collections, in terms of style and how you wear them. This small new collection consists of just 3 styles, in this striped Tunisian canvas, more sturdy but elegant and unique, one of which can be used as a backpack, for people who bike to work or just like to be hands free.
I think that what I am aiming for, is to create objects that are versatile and unique, that transcend gender and other barriers, that are made with love and meant to be loved and cared for. I sometimes meet people who still own some of my bags from the mid or late 90’s and still cherish them. I hope the same will be true for these. I hope to explore other fields and to collaborate with artisans, especially those whose livelihood depends on keeping their unique crafts and workshops going. An example of that is a project I am hoping to develop next year with a friend in Tunis. I have been working on a collection of ribbons woven in Tunisia and inspired by the graphic patterns that are everpresent there. From these, I will create bags and other accessories and my friend will use them on clothing.
And I also hope to collaborate with people inside and outside the world of Fashion. I’ve done a bit of everything and I’m interested in everything and that can be a bit tricky, frankly. So many ideas, so little time!
Where can we buy your products?
Online on my website and in the Face to Face online store in France, and at ShapiroJoyalstudio.com, boutique-homes.com in the US.
Brick and mortar stores, Merci in Paris, Shapiro Joyal Studio in LA, Femelle also in L.A.