Attention college gals! We are SO excited to introduce a new regular feature just for campus cuties: Handbag Heaven University. Brought to you by our lovely campus correspondent, Amanda Jones, a senior at Ball State University, you’ll get the lowdown on everything from college fashion to interviews with creative-chic students all over the country. So go ahead, treat yourself to a pretty little study break, and be sure to keep your eyes peeled for more from HHU!
Adorned in head-to-toe silver and gold, a clichéd accessory designer is assumed to pompously parade their custom designs around the concrete jungles of the world. Far from the stereotypical city stomper depicted on the big screen, award winning accessory designer Krystal Sokolis prefers the natural simplicity of Mother Earth to any sort of artificial sparkle and shine.
“I want to be the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain,” says 22-year-old Sokolis, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) this year. “I’m an accessory designer who is not decked out in jewelry. That’s all so strange to me. I want my image to be the backdrop, and my designs to speak for me.”
The young artist’s designs certainly spoke volumes after her one-of-a-kind, hand-woven leather satchel won the 2012 Independent Handbag Design Award (IHDA) in the student category. She recalls feeling like a star when her name was announced for the Best Student Made Handbag at the sixth annual awards presentation in New York City.
“It felt like I won an Oscar,” Sokolis says. “In a smaller setting, of course.”
Sokolis admits the moment felt surreal, even confessing her main concern upon hearing her name was simply making it to the stage in one piece.
She gave a short speech after accepting her award in front of roughly 400 attendees, including prominent fashion industry names like Kenneth Cole, InStyle, Timberland, and designers from around the world.
The barrier that had existed between Sokolis and the fashion business was forever shattered in that moment. Her grand prize included an opportunity to design a handbag collection for Piazza, an Italian leather brand, which is currently in the works.
Sokolis made her mark in the fashion industry by staying true to her vision.
“If I have an emotional connection to a material then I will work with it,” Sokolis says.
Prior to the start of her senior year, she had an immediate connection to leather and knew it would be her primary focus during her last year at SCAD.
Natural materials, wood and leather in particular, inspire Sokolis. Her color palette consists of deep, rich earth tones — especially dark brown.
“I like to use natural products,” Sokolis says. “I wouldn’t want to get into anything artificial.”
Her design inspiration is a fantasy twist on steam punk, a world she is constantly dreaming up in her imagination and translating into her dark, whimsical designs. “It’s a world that never existed colliding with a world that should have never existed,” Sokolis says. “Something that is so dirty, but so magical.”
Many wonder how such a unique vision evolved. What was her life like before SCAD? Before she owned the title of IHDA Best Student Made Handbag?
Sokolis’ fantasy world ignited in her grandfather’s farm workshop. Sokolis treasures her simple childhood days, watching her resourceful grandfather transform old furniture into gorgeous, refurbished pieces. Like his granddaughter, Konrad Kroiss had a passion for working with wood, metal, and other natural materials. Sokolis describes Grandpa Kroiss as “almost another species.”
“His brain was always thinking of ways to make things better and ways to change things,” Sokolis says. “It was almost a curse as well as a gift because it was hard to talk to him at times.”
She did more than innocently observe the intricate workings of her grandfather; she truly studied his craft.
“He was a clockmaker, a furniture builder, and lived on a farm, so to me he was magical,” Sokolis says. “I wanted to relive his life in my accessory world.”
Sokolis went on to be a self-proclaimed art addict in high school, further paving the way to her bright future as an accessory designer.
“I was addicted,” Sokolis said. “I can’t even explain it. Even in math class I would draw because I needed to. It put my brain at ease when I was drawing or doing something with my hands.”
She gained national recognition in 2008 when she won the first place award at the Congressional Art Competition in Washington, D.C. She then received a scholarship opportunity to SCAD after being recognized for her blossoming talent.
“When I first got to SCAD I was confident in my art abilities, but not so confident in who I was,” Sokolis says.
The challenges she took on her senior year at SCAD transformed her into a poised and professional accessory designer.
“It gave me the confidence to say ‘this is where I stand and this is what I want to create,’ but in a very respectful way so that I don’t sound cocky or really set in my ways,” Sokolis says. “I now can adjust to other people and collaborate ideas.”
Sokolis gives one professor, Marcell Mrsan, a great deal of credit for teaching her how to properly construct a leather bag, giving birth to her award-winning satchel. Sokolis refers to Mrsan as an “encyclopedia of accessories.” Mrsan, a master shoemaker from Hungary, came to SCAD on a whim, and Sokolis was immediately intrigued by the purposeful work created by her new teacher.
“Marcell is often mistaken for just a craftsman, but he is an amazing designer,” Sokolis says. “He is intricate with every curve he makes. Everything he does is for a reason and I really appreciated that.”
Mrsan soon became Sokolis’ professional inspiration. They worked well together in the classroom, and Sokolis often felt like his apprentice, learning every step of the way.
Sokolis admits that she and Mrsan had their fair share of disagreements regarding the design of her famous leather bag.
“I will give Marcell credit for showing me how to work with leather and how to make a bag feel expensive,” Sokolis says. “He showed me what to line a bag with to make it feel like $1,000.”
According to Mrsan, her style was outstanding in every way. Mrsan provided a statement expressing his admiration for Sokolis’ work ethic and style:
Upon our first day in class, her portfolio was already unique and mature, that set her apart from the others. Mainly influenced by the steam punk trend, she really adds her own way of thinking to the style. She was very meticulous, spending hours with the painstaking steps of handmade prototyping process, staying focused as she progressed.
The future looks bright for this promising designer. Her brand, Ophilya, has received a great deal of attention since her award-winning satchel appeared in the mega September issue of InStyle. Sokolis admits to feeling like an “overjoyed little girl” when she flipped through the fall fashion pages of the magazine and set eyes on the spread. Many exciting doors have been opened from the success of one brilliantly made handbag.
The future design endeavors of Krystal Sokolis are endless. Her advice to aspiring designers: “Don’t let people sway you because of what’s ‘in,’” Sokolis says. “You never know if your dream and desire to make a bag will change the new trend. Change is good, but people really push to deny it. Attempt your dream and if it doesn’t work keep trying. Don’t ever give up.”
Interview and article by Amanda Jones