Meet The Ultimate Handbag Collector-Turned-Designer: Lori Levine

Leah Bourne
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Meet The Ultimate Handbag Collector-Turned-Designer: Lori Levine
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Women and their handbags. It’s a love affair that drives billions of dollars of business for fashion brands the world over (and one of the few segments of fashion that proved recession-proof during the most recent downturn.)  If anyone understands that love affair, it is New York City-based Lori Levine.
Levine got her start as a television producer, eventually working as the talent booker for Conan O’Brien before deciding to break out on her own and launch Flying Television, playing matchmaker between corporate clients and celebrity talent.
“I could see that there was a change in the climate in the media,” Levine says. “If you didn’t have a celebrity showing up somewhere, it was like it didn’t happen. Could you hear the tree falling in the woods? Was there really a launch if a celebrity wasn’t standing next to it?”
That was 1998 — before the Paris Hilton onslaught, and before Rihanna was being paid $100,000 just to sit front row at a fashion show. Needless to say, Levine was on to something. Since launching the company, she has worked with everyone from Kanye West to LVMH. One day, she could be casting a fashion show with celebrities; the next, wrangling a Kim Kardashian appearance on behalf of a client.
Her respite from it all is one of most jaw-dropping closets to have ever existed in a Manhattan apartment. Stepping into this closet is like stepping into every fashion girl’s dream, situated in what was once a small bedroom in Levine’s Irving Place duplex. Levine will be quick to tell you, “I never would have done this myself” — as it happens, the closet is the result of Levine having been approached by the team at the Style Network’s “Built,” who remodeled the space to be featured on a show set to air later this year.
The closet mostly showcases Levine’s to-die for-collection of handbags. Rare Chanel chain-link handbags, Alexander McQueen clutches, and a bevy of Hermès Birkins line the walls, and one of the most prized pieces is an orange Birkin bag that was a gift from a client. “I didn’t know what to do with it,” says Levine, “and I gave it to artist Nicolas Forker and told him to do whatever he wanted with it.” The result is a one-of-a-kind piece that could be in a museum, but Levine is lucky enough to have it as a wardrobe mainstay.
It’s no surprise after spending time in Levine’s closet that her latest entrepreneurial venture is a line of clutches called Comes With Baggage.
“I’ve always had a really big respect for artists, and I’ve always looked at fashion designers like they are artists as well,” Levine shares. Ever the savvy businesswoman, Levine got the seed money for the business selling old clothes and accessories on eBay. She buys up vintage clutches, restores them, and emblazons them with cheeky sayings like Protect Me From What I Want, and commissions doodles from the likes of Elle Deadsex, Gaia, and Skullphone to create a modern vintage look. Levine also has a service where brides can customize a clutch as a keepsake, and another customizing Birkins with the help of an artist (“Birkin not included,” Levine says with a laugh).
Katy Perry, Kelly Osbourne, Uma Thurman, and Kate Upton have already been spotted carrying the clutches. What’s Levine’s hope for the business? “I want to see everyone with a Comes With Baggage clutch, of course.” Given her track record, it doesn’t seem like a stretch.
Click through the slideshow above to go inside Levine’s spectacular closet and to see some of her prized handbags.
Photography by: Jenny Norris

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Lori Levine has had a longtime love of handbags. Levine opened up her closet to us, showing off some of her favorites from designers including Chanel and Alexander McQueen, and talked about the inspiration behind her just launched line of clutches Comes With Baggage.

Levine's dream closet in her Irving Place duplex was the result of a collaboration with the Style Network's Built, who redesigned the space for a show that will air later this year.

Levine, holding a selection of her Comes With Baggage clutches, emblazoned with cheeky sayings like Protect Me From What I Want as well as commissioned doodles from top artists including Elle Deadsex, Gaia, and Skullphone.

One of Levine's prized vintage scores, which hangs in her closet. Levine's love of vintage bags led to the idea for her clutch line. Levine scours the world for vintage clutches and then restores them.

One of the most prized pieces in Levine's closet is an orange Birkin that was a gift from a client. “I didn’t know what to do with it, and I gave it to artist Nicolas Forker and told him to do whatever he wanted with it.” The result is a one-of-a-kind piece that served as inspiration for Levine's line, and a custom service she offers where you can send in your own Birkin to be personalized by an artist.

Handbags are displayed like works of art in Levine's closet. Here, a selection from Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Valentino.

A close-up of the Alexander McQueen minaudières on display in Levine's closet.

A shelf in Levine's closet brimming with Chanel bags. Her first big bag purchase was a Chanel 2.55. "I still wear it all of the time," she says.

“I’ve always had a really big respect for artists, and I’ve always looked at fashion designers like they are artists as well," Levine says, explaining her love for all things fashion. 

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