Crafting a Hill Niche

Handbag Maker Debuts Work to Neighborhood

Posted March 12, 2003 at 3:26pm

She may not yet be a household name, but handbag-maker Chantal Wienecke hopes her “Monkey Gear” creations will soon be a fixture on the arms of Hill fashionistas.

The Capitol neighborhood will have a chance to view her designs at an hors d’oeuvre party and trunk show on March 31 at the Park Cafe, which will also mark the launch of Wienecke’s Web site, www.monkeygeardesigns.com.

The former think-tank staffer and first-time mom describes her baby “bucket bags” as bigger than a purse with room for diapers, a wallet and keys. She was inspired to start making the bags after she and her husband, Nathaniel, a former Hill staffer who now works for the Department of Commerce, celebrated the birth of their daughter, Kendall, about 18 months ago.

“It was so exhausting to carry the huge diaper bag around,” she recalled, adding that she aimed to create a bag large enough for new-mom necessities while still retaining a “cool looking” aesthetic. Eventually, Wienecke decided to broaden her repertoire to include regular ladies’ handbags.

“Monkey Gear” is named after Wienecke’s favorite moniker for her daughter — “she’s a climber and she loved bananas like all children do,” she explained — and has been in existence since December.

However, Wienecke’s wares — which also include pillows and towels — are already sold at the Georgetown luxury boutique Mint Juleps. And this weekend, guests at the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Ball will get a chance to bid on a baby “bucket bag,” which will be auctioned off for charity.

Once Wienecke’s Web site is launched at the end of the month, potential customers will be able to join an e-mail list to receive e-invites to Wienecke’s monthly shows, which will be held at friend’s homes.

Her bamboo-handled ladies’ handbags — ranging from around $75 for a smaller purse to $125 for an oversized bag Wienecke dubbed “The Eastern Market Shopper” — are made from elaborate, decorator fabrics and lined with either raw silk or taffeta. The spring line will feature an array of linen bags decked with silk flower lapel pins. And this summer, she hopes to add super-sized tropical print beach bags coupled with raffia mats to her collection.

Still, Wienecke — who says her aim isn’t to mass produce designs like kate spade — is open to creating custom-made bags to fit a lady’s individual taste.

“I want women on Capitol Hill, because it is such a small world, to carry something different from the girl next door to them,” she said.

Wienecke’s bags will be on display at the Park Cafe, 106 13th St. SE, from 6 to 9 p.m. March 31. For more information, call (202) 544 -5209.