by Peggah Navab Ila is a relatively new business in town, but it’s old school at heart. Paula and Brian Bjerketvedt, the husband and wife team behind the local custom-design handbag company, have a unique take on the vintage clutch. They pair upcycled vintage fabrics with new frames, giving the bags an antique feel while keeping them up to date. Paula compares creating bags to “creating little pieces of art.” She doesn’t strive to be on trend. She draws most of her inspiration from the Art Deco movement of the '30s and '40s, which seems to be what gives her designs such an unmistakably modern feel. She also travels the world in search of interesting fabrics. For instance, at a Kimono flea market in Japan she found unique, 200-year-old silk prints she later incorporated into her work. Now Ila has a bridal and an evening line. The Frenchie clutch, a delicate envelope style silk with ruffles in the center, are the staple of Paula’s collection, and the box sequent clutches made out of 1950s vintage garments are equally popular. The Zelda bag, laden with gold fabric and beading, is a standout of the evening collection.
The custom design portion largely drives her business. Brides often come to her with very specific ideas about including pieces of the past in their weddings. Recently she made a set of bridesmaid clutches out of the bride’s mother’s wedding gown.
It’s no surprise that Paula is able to bring projects of such sentimental value to life. She launched Ila after designing a clutch for a friend’s wedding in Paris, which she regrettably missed, and her fashion tastes were influenced by her grandmother Ilaverne. While the vision and style standpoint all come from Paula, her husband, who has worked for various design agencies around town, is in charge of marketing. Also, with two little boys the couple stressed the importance of “having the business within our lives.”
Paula and Brian are also working on getting a storefront and working studio space sometime soon and Paula hopes to eventually design her own fabrics and prints. Though her bags can be found in boutiques in Shanghai and Singapore, she doesn’t foresee expanding into large-scale manufacturing. Quality not quantity is her aim. She’ll be dutifully handcrafting the bags herself for years to come.