You are walking down a busy street, it’s a beautiful day and the city is full of hustle and bustle. You are in a metropolitan city, it’s big and notably fashion forward. It might be Toronto, Montreal, New York City, London or Paris. It’s a weekday so everyone is dressed smart for various engagements. Watch the women go about their daily routines.
All of them carry one common item: a handbag. Some women carry a portable office with computers, notebooks and pens. Others carry beauty secrets, transforming the owner from office professional to seductress come sunset.
Women’s handbags are the trust-worthy guardians of one’s identity. Handbags hold pills, potions and even sometimes emergency rations, a granola bar or Tylenol. A handbag equips the owner with the essentials needed to face a smoldering city, to go away for a weekend or even simply provide supplies to tend to a burgeoning family.
Choryin Choi, 28, fashion designer and design consultant at SEVEN CONTINENTS, international retail fixture and merchandise company, is making an impression on Toronto’s fashion scene with his own unique line of handbags, Cydelic by Choryin, which double as one-of-a-kind art pieces.
“I’m trying to make the iconic bag of my brand,” says Choi in an interview at his studio in Toronto, Ontario. “The first collection I did was more an experimental stage.”
“I’m aiming for women to use it every single day on the street,” he says. “I want them to tell their friends it’s one of a kind. So, it’s not that ten girls are hanging out all wearing a Louis Vuitton Speedy, which happens everyday.”
Choi himself is a mix of costume versus classic with longish bleach, blonde hair, stretched ear lobes adorned with shiny silver spacers and plenty of couture accessories including a chunky Gucci bracelet. In just shorts and a t-shirt, it’s his sneakers doing the talking: bright pink, yellow and blue high-tops, featuring wings over the laces. While he appears eclectic he is at the same time reserved and soft-spoken.
SEVEN CONTINENTS, established in 1977, provides companies like Victoria’s Secret, Neiman Marcus and Macy’s with visual merchandising elements like mannequins, bustforms, furniture, fixtures and accessories. It’s at the SEVEN CONTINENTS factory where Choi spends the majority of his time, in a small studio, working away.
Their approach includes collaboration on visual presentation and store design with artists such as Choi, as well as showcases artist work in on-site studios. In his studio creamy leathers, mannequins, bone fragments and other sorts of raw materials surround him. This is a truly creative space, with paint splatters and a floor covered in some sort of shavings, and yet not without a giant Gucci day bag tossed in the corner.
“I try to give girls another option of being unique instead of just typically following the trends,” says Choi, who graduated from Toronto’s Seneca College School of Fashion and Merchandising in 2010.
Right out of school Choi found success, first receiving the Textile Design Award from Seneca as well as nabbing the position of artist-in-residence at SEVEN CONTINENTS, which he has held over two years while working on his own lines.
His runway collection Monsters premiered on the LG Fashion Week studio runway in 2011 and consists of read-to-wear artistic garments as well as a full line of handbags pushing the creative envelope by their use of material and shape.
Choi says the show’s concept came to him in a dream involving alien abduction. Upon waking he thought about how humans appropriate various natural elements for fashionable purposes. Alien visitors might to the same, he says. Monsters represents the result of the alien appropriation of various earthly inhabitants.
Choi says he favors haute couture designers like Viktor and Rolf and Alexander McQueen. He doesn’t cite them as an inspiration specifically but notes he is on the same wavelength when it comes to unabashed artistic design.
“Detail is actually really important to me. You can see it in every single handbag,” says Choi, who makes use of anything and everything, the rarer the better.
“One of the bags is all black and the whole bag is made of fish,” says Choi. “The main material is fish leather. There is a kind of thick fish gill as a feature so it looks like an alien monster fish. Along with water buffalo horn handles, the jaw is actually made out of buffalo teeth, so the one side of the bag is all real buffalo teeth.”
Another handbag is made entirely of insects and features a cork foundation. And yet another handbag in the collection is made entirely of lizards featuring a horn handle. The handbags indeed look alien, but it’s tough to take your eyes off them.
“Almost over half the handbag collection comes with a horn handle,” says Choi about one of the themes tying the collection together. “I think it is a really unique handle. I love horn. It’s more a fantasy item, like a unicorn. Every single magical creature comes with a horn.”
There is no question. Cydelic by Choryin is not for the faint of heart. His handbags make a statement. They draw an audience and beg of the wearer to tell their story. Like any great piece of art Choi’s handbags come from several intersecting inspirations.
Choi describes his work as his minds eye. He says he draws inspiration from daily life, his dreams and those random deja-vu moments you sometimes get.
“Whatever I see in my imagination I try to capture the feeling and capture the visual things I can see in my mind’s world to basically make them into reality,” says Choi of his process.
“Most of the time I just imagine the pieces as themselves, to which a lot of people tell me I don’t have a muse, but I do, it’s the idea of the thing,” he says. Choi is shifting the focus of his designs to handbags in particular because it allows him to express his highly artistic vision while remaining a functional daily item.
“At the beginning, I first started making really crazy pieces, and all these crazy sculptural dresses,” says Choi. “Later on, the reality of the industry hit me – only celebrities would wear that stuff on the street. No one wants to be that wild walking down the streets. No one wants to stand out.”
Choi decided structural artistic pieces would be better received on a slightly smaller scale. Not willing to skimp on impact, Choi felt a lot of people would be open to carrying embellished handbags and ultimately they would blend better into the business.
“For this collection of handbags I’m trying to achieve the shape of a mushroom but still keep the bag functional,” says Choi of his current work.
Choi is methodical when it comes to the creation of his line and considers his target markets practical needs as well as their desire to stand out and be unique.
“Women don’t want their bag to be heavy. They want it to be the right size,” says Choi of some the specifications for his pieces. “I like to aim for the middle height woman so the tiny lady doesn’t have to carry a giant bag and the tall one doesn’t have to carry a tiny bag.”
“It also has to have a really nice, spacious design,” he continues. “So you can fit a lot of things that you would carry out on the street. Some friends of mine even carry high heels in their bags. They just bust their high heels out of nowhere.”
“I’m trying to create this collection in a way so it’s the same bag but in a whole bunch of different styles,” says Choi. “So, if you carry my bag it still has the same shape but different details, not the same monogram over and over.”
Choi’s compulsion to create an iconic handbag for his brand is driven by his artistic spirit. “I’m trying to do something that is out of my own head instead of just trying to market to a woman a simple piece of leather with a logo on it like a lot of handbag companies do. That’s their measure of trying to sell,” says Choi of the industry.
“My measure of trying to sell is to have people who actually appreciate the handbag as an art piece, and as an art piece it will last forever,” he says.
Choi is currently working towards the total revamp of his website www.cydelic.com. He will also be gearing up towards the launch of the Cydelic by Choryin iconic handbag, which will feature a full line of handbags for those always in search of making a bold statement.