In the wild, the dappled pattern of leopard fur helps the actual big cats blend in. But here in the concrete jungle, the buzzy animal print makes everything covered in it stand out. This was the case with the Susan Alexandra leopard bag, which I first spotted (had to) while working out this summer. (The locker rooms of boutique fitness studios rival any runway in terms of forecasting fashion trends.) Its intricate beadwork was hard to miss as it sparkled in the sunlight. And I found myself staring at it—instead of my weighted ankles—between leg lifts.
After class, I tracked down its owner who turned out to be Alexandra herself, a bubbly brunette (you know what they say about endorphins and exercise) and self-taught accessories maker. She told me that the leopard bag wasn’t yet for sale but that I could sign up for its waitlist. Which I did because, despite popular belief, editors don’t always get everything for free. And since then, I’ve followed along as a growing number of women stalk this statement piece. I swear, it’s like being part of some online shopping safari.
So far, Alexandra’s sold 600 of her animal print accessory and has at least that many people waiting their turn to add one to their collections. “It’s very democratic,” says the designer. “I don’t do it by when the person signs up. They all get notified at the same time and whoever buys it first, gets it. It’s a password protected piece, so only the people on the list have access to it. The password changes every time I get new bags. And everyone’s limited to one per order.”
The bottleneck around the bag, which costs $325, is in part due to demand, but also because of its limited supply. “Everything’s still made here in New York and it takes so much time to make,” Alexandra explains. “I get like two a week. The people I work with are just trying to keep up. It takes one person a day and a half to make a bag.” Each one has about 1,600 beads.
Initially, Alexandra, who started selling her purses in March of 2017, made each on her own. “Really, I just made them for myself,” she says. “I made one style for myself. I put it on my Instagram, and after that, I got such a response, I decided to start selling them.” She now works with a select few skilled makers here in the city who help bring her creations to life. Along with the leopard bag, other popular styles include a purse covered in cow print, one dotted with cherries, and her signature Merry bag, which is an assortment of multicolored beads that kind of looks like candy buttons.
When I mention this reference to Alexandra, she agrees. “I’m always attracted to something that’s almost aggressively fun, a little bit childish, and sparkly.” (Same.) “I’m not a minimalist. I love something that’s over the top sweet.”
Plus, she says, her playful purses help counterbalance a lot of the bitterness she feels about current events. “If you really look at what’s going on in the political and social climate, I think that there’s a lot of scary things right now,” she says. “And I think that they’re an escape and an antidote for really dark times. I think that people have really connected to them.”
That’s putting it mildly. Last week, a handful of leopard bags went up for grabs—each sold out in under five minutes. An earlier drop was gone in three. Yet another in six. When Alexandra posts pictures of the bag on Instagram, they illicit responses such as, “Neeeeeed,” “Loveeee!,” and “Want,” with too many heart-eye emojis to count. People around the world ask if she ships to their city. Often these images include women of all ages and backgrounds, showing the bag’s appeal seems to be universal in more ways than one. “I think they also harken to a more innocent time,” Alexandra surmises. “And they remind you of your grandma. Everyone’s grandma had something that was a little over the top.”
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