Loes Vrij

Offer designer Loes Vrij five words to describe her eponymous label and the sentence 'tough, elegant, practical, timeless bags' is uttered without any form of hesitation. This confidence isn't surprising. It may have taken ex-lawyer Loes some time to start her handbag brand, but now that it's here she couldn't imagine herself doing anything else, 'I receive tons of energy by doing what I love. It's not just motivation or passion that drives me; it's a pure fascination to make each design, every bag, work.' 


Photography by Lee Wei Swee
Words by Chloé Bauwens

When it comes to handbags, it-bags are no longer discovered on seasonal runways and glossy editorials. They are endorsed by influencers, liked and reposted on Instagram and pre-ordered online. Evidently, that's also how Amsterdam-based handbag brand, Loes Vrij, first got its foot in the door of the hectic fashion scene.

During one of Loes' first stays in Paris, to showcase her designs at a trade show, she and her PR team encountered Italian businesswoman and fashion influencer Chiara Ferragni of The Blonde Salad while dining at a restaurant. One of Loes' PR agents reacted promptly and offered Chiara a 'Glorious Gun' bag from the collection, but the team's expectations of this handout were cautious, to say the least. The next day a blog post on Loes Vrij, with several pictures of Chiara using the bag in the streets of Paris, was posted on The Blonde Salad. The out-turn of this post was immediate, resulting in several orders, but mostly ensuring an explosive growth in brand awareness for Loes' young, new label.

All of the Loes Vrij bags have to be original in form and function, and suitable for every occasion, day and night.
You came into the fashion scene after a career as a lawyer, do you think fashion has somehow always been in the cards for you?
As a kid, I was pretty doubtful of what I would do later in life. I wasn't the type of child with a clear idea of what I wanted to become or with a dream career. Going to an art academy was in the back of my mind because I loved to draw, paint and scour for second-hand clothing on markets around Amsterdam, but what I could do with those interests remained rather vague to me. So, I decided to follow my parents' advice and went to law school. After several years of practising law, my interest in fashion and creativity piqued again, and I enrolled myself in a course in fashion design and styling at the Vogue Academy in Amsterdam. I'll admit that I was slightly scared that I might be too old to change careers entirely at this point. (laughs) But I became intrigued by the design process and the amount of work that goes into creating a collection. I felt a strong pull back then towards working with leather, and it's around that time that I came up with a first prototype for a handbag. If I'm honest, everything happened rather accidental; I would have never guessed that designing bags would have been my calling.

Your love for handbags must have originated somewhere though. Do you have a bag that is special to you, aside from your designs of course?
There's this Miu Miu bag that I'm quite devoted to. I've had it for quite some time and use it frequently when I'm not carrying one of my designs. While my style can easily be described as timeless, classic and with a bit of an edge, I'm also a huge fan of Miu Miu. It has this frivolous, over the top aspect which I love. The pink colours, the glitter... Miu Miu is a brand that stays recognisable and successfully distincts itself and its aesthetic from everything else you currently see. That's something I applaud: the ability to have a clear image, a set DNA of what your brand is while remaining ahead of the curve year after year. Thinking about handbags, there is a bag from my childhood that I can recall. My mother bought me a leather bag which had a lot of small pockets and hidden storage spaces inside. I remember this bag vividly because it made me so happy, I felt very grown-up and ladylike while using it. It's a shame I no longer have it.

This handbag apparently made a strong impact on your designs, given the fact that they also contain a lot of pockets and zippers to ensure the bags' practical aspects.
Yes, I believe it probably has somehow. (laughs) I think women appreciate the pragmatic features of my designs. Personally, I get a satisfying feeling of knowing exactly where to find everything I need. My designs aren't very trend-based. Of course, I'm aware of existing trends to see what's already out there and to keep seasonal colours in the back of my mind when I'm designing, but I stay true to my own vision, my style. All of the bags I design have to be original in form and function and suitable for every occasion, day and night. At the same time, they need to have an element of fun, like the ear-inspired leather detailing. It's something trendy, something different, but thanks to the overall quality, colours and materials it remains classic and timeless.

Talking about quality, what do you associate luxury with?
To me, luxury has everything to do with the choice of materials. I'm not big on using synthetic materials such as acrylic fibres; I prefer to work with natural fabrics like leather. Aside from that, I'm a maniac when it comes to details and finishing touches. I would never stint on a qualitative finish, and personally, I think it's a pity when other brands do. I'm aware that these things are expensive, even a small zipper can skyrocket the final prize of a bag instantly, but it's important for a client that these details uphold to a certain standard. To further underline this aspect of luxury, I make sure to carry out this line of quality into every detail of Loes Vrij. A nice dust bag, thick silk paper used as wrapping for shipments, firm boxes, so a bag doesn't feel an impact when being transported. It's the combination of all of these things and an eye for detail that will ensure quality, luxury and a happy customer. Surely, that has to be every label's goal.

After working for four years alongside your job as a lawyer, you decided to start full time at the beginning of 2017. What has been the biggest lesson you've learned since?
It's not as easy as it seems. When you look at the fashion industry, everything appears to be fun and games to the outside world, while in reality, it's a long, hard and competitive road to follow. You need to power through every single day and keep working as hard as you can. Giving up is not an option when you want to make it. You'll face setbacks, but the important thing is to learn from them, to rethink your strategy and to keep going while analysing all of these aspects. There's no time to stand still. I think that was the biggest eye-opener for me, that things don't magically fall into your lap. When it comes to advice, I received the best instructions when I was listening to the radio. I tuned in on a business talk, and a marketing expert said that the biggest focus of any company should be on selling. To pick up the phone, find the right people to talk to and sell what you have to offer. When you're first starting your business, that's something you'll lose sight of faster than you might think, even though it's the core of your company. Marketing, branding, social media, ... all of those aspects are important, but when you're not finding buyers or customers, you might as well shut down immediately. You might not like it, but it's something we all have to do.