Handbags at Dawn

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Loren Taylor’s handmade ‘cushion clutch’ was first available to buy in St Andrews’ beloved coffee shop Taste, on North Street. Now her handbags retail from £300 upwards in Sloane Square’s Peter Jones, John Lewis in Edinburgh and online.

In 2005 Loren was a model in Don’t Walk and the following year, she took up the role of Creative Director for the show. In the same year that she was a model, her very first collection (inspired by the ‘beautiful setting’ of St Andrews and incorporating reclaimed drift wood from West Sands into her designs) was exhibited on the same stage. Extra curricular gone mad I hear you scream? Well yes. And like the rest of us, she had to attend to the matter of a degree on top of all this.

Now in my fourth year, the constant talk of ‘job applications’, ‘graduate schemes’ and ‘post-grad courses’ is a staple amongst those of us still facing that awful and itching conundrum of what to do next. But when I spoke to Loren Taylor, it was hugely reassuring to hear that she too had no idea how she was going to use her Human Biology degree and admitted that she spent “a lot of time walking the coast line thinking about what she was going to do next” whilst still a student here at St Andrews.

But Loren needn’t have worried. She took a risk, and pursued her creative instincts, spurred on by seeing someone carrying one of her clutches for the first time, describing it as “the thrill of seeing something you have ‘dreamt up’ and spent hours developing being used and enjoyed.” That inspiration that Loren first felt in St Andrews has translated into a collection of luxury British handbags that Loren exercises full design and production control over. What started off as a side project to her degree is now a full time career – and if that’s the kind of entrepreneurial passion that St Andrews fosters, I think it’s (just about) safe for us terrified (think baby rabbits in the headlights) fourth years to breath a sigh of relief.

Undoubtedly a certain ambition, talent and confidence in her ability made Loren’s transition that bit easier, but there is something to be said about St Andrews as a cradle for inspiring creativity. Maybe I’m biased and all universities promote a similar kind of space for experimentation, but you only have to look at the host of successful alumni that once walked our Three Streets to understand that St Andrews has something special on offer: Marco Biagi (recently elected for this year’s Scottish parliament), Craig Oliver (Media Executive and Head of Communications to David Cameron), Louise Minchin (BBC News Journalist and broadcaster), Crispin Bonham-Carter (Actor and Theatre Director) and Kate Holt (Photojournalist for The Sunday Times, Observer and UNICEF). Perhaps it is the somewhat insular focus on academia at St Andrews, that is only intensified by the town’s geographic sense of claustrophobia that gets students looking for alternatives to the library – Tesco – home routine.

Loren’s fond recollections of lock-ins at the Westport, dancing in Ma Bells or The Lizard and much coffee-slurping spent snuggled in Taste, is a familiar story that seems a long way from the real life world of running your own London based handbag business. Whilst Loren takes inspiration from the ‘African tropical storms’ of her childhood, ‘architecture and nature’, her affection for St Andrews and its past and present influences are powerful. Now, six years after graduating, Loren will return to St Andrews to see her Spring/ Summer ’12 collection on the FS catwalk in February next year.

In an industry that is constantly scrutinized for its overseas production and throw- away fashion mentality, it is becoming increasingly important for designers and retailers alike to acknowledge ethical standards. But this is something that Loren promotes as fundamental to her entire artistic process, stating on her website that ‘the bags are made in limited numbers; a quite revolt against large scale production.’ Ticking another ethical standards box, the brand also prides itself on its craftsmanship – only employing ‘traditionally trained, leather artisans’ who make the bags in England and Europe. This kind of intricate attention to detail can be seen in all elements of Loren’s brand. The A/W ’11 collection is made up of only seven bags, (including the Sophie bag as pictured) – something, which I consider as testament to her focus on design, and production standards that prioritizes quality over quantity with no compromise.

Loren Taylor has come full circle and her decision to support the charity fashion shows (that whilst studying here she attended every year) makes clear the influence that St Andrews had in getting her to the position she is now.

Example set, I guess it’s our turn to make it count. No pressure.

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