When I asked designer Candy Woolley how many purses she owned from her luxury handbag line, her answer shocked me. In fact, at first I didn’t believe her. “Just one,” she mused as I aggressively quizzed her during our recent “Shireen’s Favorite Things” fashion photo shoot. “How is that possible?” I asked in disbelief.

Of course, the question was coming from a raging fashion addict who’s motto is: “you can never have too many purses or pairs of shoes.” What’s more, it’s no secret that when it comes to high heels and beautiful bags, moderation is not my strong suit.

Candy, however, explained that she only carries her trusty cowhide travel tote for a simple reason. When she first started out as a young designer, almost everything she made, loved and therefore got attached to, would literally be negotiated right out of her hands; women simply wanted what she was wearing.

Eager to make a sale, she would immediately dump out the contents of her purse right in the middle of wherever she happened to be at the time and viola, a happy customer would make off with “A Candy Bag.”

That experience, which luckily happened over and over again, would not only teach her NOT to become too enamored with her own designs, it would also signify that she was really onto something: a booming bag business.

Candy, who’s a very pretty, affable brunette, has an undeniable God given talent. She can design a purse just as good, if not better, than some of the best high-end bag designers in the business. She probably inherited her artistic gifts from her parents, who are third generation tailors.

Growing up, Candy was always surrounded by fabrics, textures, patterns and fashion. She learned to sew when she was just thirteen and quality was something her parents instilled in her from a very early age. They also taught Candy business acumen by openly sharing client conversations, where she quickly learned about sourcing fabrics and materials.

By the time she went to college, studying the family business was a no-brainer. She easily got her degree in graphic design and went to work in her chosen profession. Things would change, though, when Candy got married and had her first baby.

At home on maternity leave, she found herself restless (especially while the baby was sleeping) and felt the need to create something interesting and provocative. She decided to experiment; combining her love of art, sewing and self-taught leather crafting. Candy Woolley – the business – was born.

Twelve years later, the designer continues honing her meticulous handbag-making skills and has made quite a name for herself in the Magic City. Hollywood is taking note, too. Her bags have flanked the fabulousness of Kourtney Kardashian, as well as local media types (like myself) and other fashion-minded reporters, hosts and actresses who carry her bags on red carpets for special occasions like the Emmys, Grammys, Billboard Awards and movie premieres.

Shireen Sandoval: I love your bags. They’re so textured, bold and beautiful. Tell me about your line.
Candy Woolley: Thank you very much! My mother and I are the creators of each piece. The bags are well-made and they last a lifetime. Many ladies have described them as ‘happy’ bags. Clients tell us how they love the designs, the combination of skins, colors, the stitching, and the interiors. I strongly believe that the inside of a bag is just as important as the outside. There is nothing more disappointing than a beautiful bag and when opened, it’s just blah! I’ve had ladies base their final decision on buying one of my bags because they loved the bag when they opened it.

SS: How did you get your start in design?
CW: My parents were my introduction into the fashion world. I grew up in a family of third generation tailors surrounded by fabrics, patterns and European fashion magazines. I learned how to sew at age 13. I learned a lot about their business and constantly overheard conversations with their clients and became very involved in all aspects. Quality was also instilled in me. I learned how to source fabrics and materials. Then in 2003, after obtaining a bachelor of science in graphic design and working full time, I was home on maternity leave with my first baby and while he was asleep for many hours, I felt the need to do something with my time. I began to combine my love for art with three dimensional objects and sewing. I taught myself how to work with leather by reading a lot, watching tutorials, and becoming friends with other leather artists. Once I had my first order, I realized I had a business. I registered and 12 years later, here I am!
SS: What type of purses do you feature in your line?
CW: I design and work with all types of silhouettes, clutches in all different sizes, totes, shoulder bags; lately I’ve been obsessed with the barrel shape. I do a lot of custom work, so I create the bag or purse the client wants. I work with genuine leather and exotic skins.
SS: Where do you get your creative inspiration?
CW: Everyday is different and every bag has a story. I don’t plan much or force anything. I let my brain, imagination, and hands do what they want. Everything I have seen, the people I have met and every place I have visited in the world has shaped the way I create. Feelings play a very important part in my work – happiness, boldness and excitement are feelings that take over the creative process. I just make and enjoy what I do. I have fun!

SS: How long does it take you to create a purse from start to finish?
CW: It’s hard to tell, depending on how complex a design is or how the skins have to be put together. It could be from a few hours to a few days. A lot of time goes into sourcing the materials, too. Sometimes, I spend half of my day when I go to the distributor to look for skins for just one bag. I have to look through so many skins to find the best quality to give my client only the best. So it is difficult to say exactly.

SS: Do you still have the first bag you ever designed?
CW: No, I don’t have my very first bag. At first, I didn’t know the difference between leather and imitation leather. I was truly ignorant; I thought everything was the same. I bought a piece of green material with a snake texture, I made my first bag and it was pretty with a pleated technique around the opening. I was proud of it, but it didn’t last. The material basically was disposable; after a little while, it started to peel and tear. So I had to throw it away; it was disappointing. That experience is what forced me to look into better quality materials, which is what led me to discover skins. The challenging part was teaching myself how to work with leather.
SS: Tell me about your latest and greatest purse creations.
CW: I’m working on a barrel shape purse that can be hand-held or carried as a cross body.  I am excited about it because I am imagining so many combinations of colors and skins I can put together. We created the pattern in 2004 and made it with fabric, but it was too advanced and I was just getting started so I put it aside. And now, 10 years later I am resuscitating it. All the experience I have obtained working with leather I am ready for it now.
SS: Who is your style inspiration?
CW: Karl Lagerfeld, because no matter how old he gets, he is still a creative genius. He doesn’t just do fashion, he also does his own photography and even makes films!

SS: What was your experience like working on the blog?
CW: It was a very unique experience. It was very organized, creative, and fun. The setting for the photos inside Dominique Boutique gave a glamorous, feminine and rich feel to the overall look. The entire team was a pleasure to work with. I thank you very much for letting me be a part of this experience.

Oh, how I love Dominique Boutique! The Coral Gables clothing store, which carries a variety of bags from Candy’s collection, sits right smack dab in the middle of Miracle Mile. Although I tend to find the area a tad kitschy, the boutique is anything but.

It’s owned by fashionista, Dominique Aristondo, who’s been dressing South Florida women for over 45 years. Her taste is impeccable and the variety of interesting and unique dresses, blouses, pants, accessories and shoes are like nothing I’ve seen in Miami before.

Her boho chic vibe seeps into the the entire store and we were lucky enough to have her help style me for the blog. My fashion guru, Jackie Kay, loved working with Dominique, pulling outfits that would highlight both Candy’s bags and showcase the diversity of the store.

The long, purple, wowza evening gown was my absolute favorite and, paired with one of Candy’s sleek clutches, makes for a magical red carpet moment. The black cocktail number (with silver chained draping in the back) went perfectly with Candy’s pretty printed purses and the bright red ballerina dress (with a low-waisted, rawhide leather belt,) lets her neutral, very textured bags pop with personality (all pictured in the blog.)

Interestingly enough, when interviewing Candy and Dominique, both describe one another with the exact same adjectives; unusual, unique and one-of-a-kind. Which makes me believe their business partnership is no coincidence at all. Together, they’re a powerful fashion force of “quality meets individuality” and that’s why “A Candy Bag” will always be one of my favorite things.

Shop the blog looks at www.candywoolley.com
Instagram: @candywoolleyhandbags
Twitter: @candywoolley
FB: Candy Woolley Accessories
Wardrobe provided by Dominique Boutique
Instagram: @DominiqueBoutique
Twitter: @Dominiqueok
FB: Dominique Boutique

Twitter: @ShireenSandoval
IG: @ShireenSandoval

Photographer: James Woodley
Twitter: @BritFloridian
IG: @BritFloridian

Hair & Make-up: Odette Hernandez
Twitter: @Odettehernandz

Styling & Assist: Jackie Kay
blog ideas: Jackiekay211@yahoo.com  

Editor: Matthew Auerbach

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