I first met Fiona three years ago, when we were introducing Tatcha to Joyce Beauty, in Hong Kong. She is a fellow Wellesley alum, and our friends in common said that I must meet her. When I finally walked into her showroom, I was stunned.

It held glass cases with the most beautiful bags and accessories I had ever seen. Once I met her, I realized that her creations are the accessory of choice for red carpet starlets. When you see a fabulous clutch or a fairytale minaudiere, it's likely from Fiona's vision.

In addition to being a mom, entrepreneur and CEO, she is also one of the most zen people I have ever met. Over the years, she has become a friend and someone I look up to very much. The opportunity to partner with her for our first red-carpet holiday gift is a dream come true. I am so excited for you to get to know the incredible woman and friend behind our Yakai Celebration of Glamour Set.

 

1.  Entrepreneurship is a dramatically different path from working at a large company like Tory Burch—what inspired you to strike out on your own?

In my past experience, I have had the fortunate opportunity to work for large companies in their start-up phases, from the Gap’s Old Navy, where I launched their accessory and home divisions, to Tory Burch back in its formative few years, when it was still named “Tory.”

I started KOTUR in 2005 as a side project, having found a trove of vintage brocades, I produced a line of clutches for charity, and from that first batch, sold through Bergdorf, Scoop and a few others, managed to fund an international medical mission for Operation Smile. Retailers asked for more variety, so I established the business and launched a broader collection, mainly focused on minaudieres and clutches.  I enjoy the entrepreneurial experience of creating a brand from a 360 degree perspective, and trying to control its growth, be it expanding it or curtailing it, depending on the business climate and my personal commitments to my growing family.

2. Some of your recent designs are quite novel — one handbag has mini LEDs that light up and another one that features a sound activated flashing panel. Where do you find your inspiration?

We find inspiration from travel, art, and popular culture. This year the inspiration came from the glamour of the 1960’s, from supper clubs to legendary casinos.

The exclusive online LED collection is inspired by the Vegas of today, having visited last year. Once we found the sound-activated mechanism, it was easy to develop novelty bags that became like “mobile discos.” We celebrate creativity, and though they are quite different to any previous collection, the clutches are grounded in classic design–we took the idea and ran with it.

3. Many of your clutches combine beauty and elegance with a functional aspect, such as being tailored to fit an iPhone 6. How has technology changed the way you design your collection?

Our bags are meant to be small and elegant, an extension of the wearer. We always say, the smaller the bag the better the evening, as there are fewer distractions, but a clutch also needs to be practical and it’s essential that it holds a phone. Phone sizes have definitely influenced the size of our bags, and we also have a patent pending for the #getsmartbag in which the smartphone is an intrinsic part of the bag’s design by being mounted on the outside of the case. This makes it so it does not need to be removed while speaking, while holding all of your essentials.

 

4. How did your lifestyle change once you founded Kotur?

I had two young children when I started KOTUR, and I now have four:  twin eight-year old boys and two teenaged boys.  My lifestyle has been more affected by my growing family and their needs than by my business, though I am constantly changing the way I work to accommodate the variety of personal and professional demands.  I think I learned early on to become extremely efficient with my time, and I don’t take it for granted.

5. What advice would you give to someone looking for a new beginning, either in their career or making a change in their life?

I suppose it’s important to commit fully to change, but also to plan a time to evaluate and reflect, and initially not to do anything that cannot be undone without major consequences. In business, you should be driven by your vision, but also tempered, be it personal reflection or customer response.  Plans need to be constantly refined and looked at through different perspectives.

6. Do you prefer minaudieres for everyday use or mostly in the evenings or special occasions?

I always carry a clutch in my large day bag- so I can run out to lunch or for an errand with a neat, small bag in hand. I find them really useful – they are more finished looking and practical than carrying a wallet and phone.

7. What items are always in your handbag, no matter what?

My phone, cash, credit card and chapstick.

8. We love the beautiful handbag you made for us this holiday! What are your tips for incorporating a special piece like this into your wardrobe?

Don’t overthink it- there are no rules and a minaudiere will go with anything you wear. They will also help to transition your mood and appearance from day to evening, work life to social life, which is perfect for the holiday season. An accessory such as a clutch finishes any outfit and creates effortless chic.

9. What is the best way to care for handbags and clutches?

Treat the clutches and minaudieres with care- they are all hand crafted and special. Use the enclosed dust cloth to wipe off oils and dust before storing in the dustbag in a dry place.

10. Do you have any golden rules for accessorizing with handbags?

No rules! A woman should have fun and follow her instincts and personal style.

11. As the mother of four young boys, what are your secrets for feeling beautiful amidst your busy schedule? What are your secrets for finding time for yourself?

There is definitely no science to being able to juggle it all – but I do try at least to focus on one thing at a time. When I am at work, I focus on that, when I get home I try and switch off everything from the office. I appreciate a long weekend hike, with the dog and anyone else in the family who will join me! That is my peaceful time. Even though I am not by myself, it’s time I covet and enjoy sharing with the boys.

12. What is your beauty ritual?

I like to keep things simple. I use Tatcha’s Rice Enzyme Powder to exfoliate followed by the Supple Moisture Rich Silk Cream.

13. We heard you have 500 pairs of shoes! (Full Disclosure: I wore Kotur shoes in a Vogue feature and now love to wear Kotur head to toe. I will buy a closet full of Kotur shoes one day. #lifegoals) What is about shoes that brings you joy? Do you have a favorite pair?

I always maintain that a great shoe makes you feel like you can conquer the world….

Honestly, I have been collecting shoes and bags for 25 years, and have a vast collection of vintage and new, as well as many by KOTUR, including samples that were never produced.  My favorite pair is of the Gilda sandal as it was the first shoe we produced and one I plan to wear forever. Also surprisingly comfortable at 110mm!

14. Tatcha is based on the wisdom of generations, finely honed and handed down by women. Who has made your journey more beautiful, and what did he or she teach you?

My mother has always been a great influence and inspiration. She is so creative and talented, and such a strong, independent personality. I describe her as part Lucille Ball, part Coco Chanel with a dash of Aunty Mame. I have learned by her example over the years. She is currently an interior designer, but was also a fashion designer and illustrator. She does all the illustrations for KOTUR and I love to feature her work.

15. We are working on a list of beautiful places to visit in Hong Kong, and I imagine you are asked for recommendations all the time. Where do you take friends when they visit from abroad?  

My all-time favorite thing to do is to take Star Ferry at night--upper deck is best! I never tire of the skyline and city lights. As a contrast, I also take visitors for a hike along Dragon’s Back as one of Hong Kong’s wonderful characteristics is the juxtaposition of the city and nature and the ability to appreciate both in the same afternoon.

 

You can explore Fiona's beautiful collection of accessories at her website, koturltd.com.

Victoria Tsai
Chief Treasure Hunter

published December 2015

Living, Design, Interviews, Fashion
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