Rebecca Minkoff on Baby News, Branching Out, and What’s Next for the Brand

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Rebecca Minkoff

Rebecca Minkoff is due for a serious vacation. The Morning After Bag queen started her now-cult contemporary handbag line in 2005 after dabbling in apparel, and in the last six years has launched belts and bracelets, baby bags, ready-to-wear, a higher-end Rebecca Minkoff Collection line, a men’s accessories line called Ben Minkoff, and (whew!) shoes, which are brand-new for Spring 2011. But with project after project rolling along, she’s nowhere near slowing down.

FashionEtc chatted with Minkoff about swimwear, sunglasses and mattresses (yes, really)—plus the designer's biggest project to date: her first child. She’s three months pregnant.

Congrats on the baby news!

Thanks, we’re excited too. It should be fun!

Do you know if it’s a boy or a girl yet?

We’re going to find out in about a month. We just hope it’s a happy baby!

Any names picked out?

We’re keeping those to ourselves.

Tell me about your Fall collection.

It was really inspired by Charlotte Kemp Muhl—eclectic. I hate it when people copy runway looks exactly, but she mixes it up. So Fall was the best of both worlds. There were some beautiful patterns, a little fur …

Ready-to-wear’s still relatively new for you. How does it compare to your other collections?

I think it’s the hardest of all categories. A bag doesn’t have to fit anyone’s thighs or hips, and neither does a shoe! It definitely requires a lot of work, but it’s great to do clothing again.

How do you manage your time with all your projects?

We just take it day by day. Today I was supposed to be on bags all day but I’ve ended up doing clothing. It’s all of it, all the time!

How do you unwind?

I used to unwind with a glass of wine—now I can’t do that! Now I relax with Oprah. I can untangle myself, I just shut down and turn of the phone. It’s not a normal 9-to-5 job, but that’s what I signed up for.

What made you decide to branch into menswear with Ben Minkoff?

The concept for the men’s collection really came about last year. For April Fool’s Day, we sent around this joke “Men Love Rebecca Minkoff” e-mail. We got so much interest! That’s when we realized that we really had a market for it. It launched in stores for spring, and the response has been great! I couldn’t really ask for better results.

I hear the ladies love it too?

Definitely! We had a box of the Ben Minkoff bags here, and the office, which is mostly women, was going through it like they were starving! Our female customer really feels like she can wear the men’s bags and it doesn’t necessarily look like it. They’re unisex, which is cool.

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Photos: Imaxtree

Looks from the Rebecca Minkoff Fall 2011 collection

Now that you do bags, shoes, and ready to wear, you could hypothetically be in head-to-toe Rebecca Minkoff all the time. What designers do you wear when you’re not wearing your own collections?

I love Camilla Skovgaard shoes when I’m not wearing my own. Right now, at three months pregnant, I’m in this weird stage where people are wondering, “Is she just fat? What is she wearing?” But I love Nicholas K, I love a good Alex Wang piece, I love Helmut Lang.

How’s the shoe business going so far?

It’s sold out for Spring, which is our first season! You put it out there and hold your breath because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but the customer has really responded well. Shoes are very technical—definitely more than bags. I’ve been having to learn about different lasts, measurements, thinking about making things tiny, like stitches. I’m still learning—I had no training in shoes!

You started as bags, launched RTW a few years ago, then shoes, then men’s—are there more categories in the works for you?

Definitely! We’re looking to make Rebecca Minkoff a whole lifestyle brand. Swim, sunglasses, home … not now, but down the road. We want to do anything my customer has in her life. There are plans in the works; we’re not ready to announce them yet but you’ll hear of it soon!

On your Web site it says you’re the No. 1 independent accessories designer in the United States. How does that feel?

It feels good! We’re self-funded; I don’t have someone rich giving me a lot of money. We did this organically. The people who are outselling me have billions of dollars behind them, and we’re going it on our own. It feels really good. I imagined this, but I didn’t think it was going to happen. When you’re eating ramen and you can’t pay your rent, all you can think is, Is this really going to happen? How do you go from here to there?

When you started your bag line, why did you go for a contemporary price point rather than designer?

It wasn’t really something I thought about. Contemporary was a booming business. Botkier and Kooba were around, and women who were just starting work could afford it; it wasn’t so unreachable. I think things have changed a little—and now we have the Collection line, which is a higher price point.

What are your short- and long-term goals for the brand?

We definitely want to open stores as soon as possible and focus on our own retail side of things. And then there’s the lifestyle thing I mentioned earlier. I wouldn’t be mad if one day there are mattresses with my name on them!

You’ve been super-savvy about all things digital, from your blog to e-commerce to Twitter. Have you felt the impact of that, business-wise?

Definitely. And I think anyone who didn’t start that is feeling the opposite. I owe a lot to my brother [Uri Minkoff, the company’s CEO], who came from a tech background; he’s been able to steer a lot of that kind of thing. The customer today wants to be in touch with the designer. You can’t be in your ivory tower and untouchable. Girls have my personal e-mail! They can relate to a real person.

What advice do you give to the aspiring designers out there?

I recently have been speaking at different events, like the Learning Annex, blog summits, round tables. What I keep telling people is to prepare to work your ass off and not see your family and live on $20 a day. It’s not this glamorous thing—and people are shocked. Obviously there’s glamour to it, but people think there’s only that. I want them to know how much work it is. Sure, there are people who have a meteoric rise and that’s great, but there are more examples of people working hard for a long time.

Are you going to be taking it easy at all through your pregnancy?

I am full speed ahead. There’s no rest for me until I’m giving birth! Even then, I don’t think I can take three months off! We’ve been laughing: Will there be a crib at the office? Where is the baby going to go? Thank God I have six more months.

And then you’ll be able to put the little one to work.

Yeah, I’m putting the kid to work! I got put to work!