In the Bag

This designer finds that creating something functional and fun—like a unique clutch—can do a person good.

It came to Leigh Ann Barnes that a woman can reverse her luck. So why not her handbag? That notion of change is at the heart of Barnes’ eponymous handbag line, which is bursting with luxury clutches and totes that—presto, change-o—become fabulous times two.

Her clutches go from evening couture to day at the shore in a flash. And each piece comes with a darling twist—real coins tethered to an elegant silver chain. It’s Barnes’ way of encouraging women to have fun and play with change.

Her own change began in 2007, when tasked with gift-giving at Christmas. “I wanted to give my 15 female cousins matching gifts,” she says. “But what to get fun women, all under 30?”

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While shopping, she came upon adorable satin clutches for $1. She bought 15, then started embellishing them with removable details. “It was a five-minute idea that really launched the line,” she says.

The gifts were a hit, and Barnes knew she tapped into something deep. “I have this idea that if you use your God-given gifts, it will fill your heart with hope and joy, and I was looking for that,” she says.

Barnes, a marketing executive at the time, found the economic downturn affecting her business. That left her with some time on her hands—hands that were itching to return to creating.

“I realized how nice those little clutches could be if they were made of quality materials,” she says. So she began to make more bags and meet people who would eventually help her get her craft into places like ViVi G Shoes, Ellie, Houppette and even Nicole Miller stores in Philadelphia. “When I got full-force into it, doors just started opening.”

And they still are. These days, Barnes’ bags are made at a sewing house in Los Angeles, and she’s landed a trunk show at New York’s famed Henri Bendel this fall.

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“I’ve found that when you finally identify what you’re passionate about, you meet like-minded people,” she says.

One of those like-minded people—a friend she reconnected with on Facebook—is a makeup artist who worked on the set of “Desperate Housewives.” And that’s how Leigh Ann Barnes handbags ended up on Wisteria Lane. In at least one episode, Eva Longoria Parker (Gabby Solis) and Teri Hatcher (Susan DelFino) carry her bags. Felicity Huffman (Lynette Scavo) even custom-designed her own bag.

But Barnes isn’t getting caught up in the Hollywood of it all. “I don’t want a woman to see Felicity with a bag and say, ‘I want the Felicity bag,’” she says. “I’d rather you want a you bag.”

Her own sense of style mimics that of her bags. “My outfits need to fit where I am, just like my handbags,” she says.

Catch her in a simple black shift that she plays up with accessories. “My clothing is simple in terms of palette, but what I love to do is embellish it with pieces that tell a story, like a scarf a friend bought me from India. And I think incorporating red when you can gives off confidence.”

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Confidence she has, but it’s her complete dedication to her craft and her clients that separates Barnes from her peers. “This has been an incredible journey,” she says. “It’s my own story of change. And I just am so humble, and really aim to pay it forward.”


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