Cultured Magazine

Fall 2014

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88 CULTURED MZ Wallace celebrates 15 years of accessorizing with a new bag in collaboration with Glenn Ligon. BY JACKIE COOPERMAN PORTRAIT BY JASON SCHMIDT ART AND COMMERCE J ust like the leather-trimmed Bedford nylon bags that they design and sell around the world, MZ Wallace co-founders Lucy Wallace and Monica Zwirner are smart, fluent in both high fashion and street style, culturally aware and profoundly practical. To celebrate their company's 15th anniversary this winter, the aesthetes are turning to their twin loves: art and philanthropy. A hundred percent of proceeds from their latest collaboration, a tote by artist Glenn Ligon (currently on sale on the company's website), will fund arts education at the Studio Museum in Harlem. "Teens are underserved, and the museum's programs for them are quite special," Zwirner explains. "We approached Thelma [Golden, the museum's director] and said we'd love to collaborate with an artist of her choice." Zwirner was delighted when Golden chose Ligon (they've known one another since high school). "He's brave, conceptual and also completely visual and engaging," she says. Visual engagement is central to Wallace and Zwirner's approach. With a style they call "classic but not conservative," each has an exacting eye for detail, and they are constantly mixing design and art, from gold hardware to the occasional tassel, wild print or fringe. The collaboration with Ligon is not the first of its kind for the dynamic duo. In 2005, they marked their fifth anniversary with a fine-jewelry collection by Marcel Dzama. Although MZ Wallace evolved from a chance encounter at the Union Square farmers market, their combined experience—Wallace's resume includes stints at Harper's Bazaar and Manolo Blahnik; Zwirner was a fashion stylist who later headed interiors for New York architect Annabelle Selldorf—prepared them to create the attractive, working-woman-friendly bags for which the brand is known. From its relatively quiet beginnings on Crosby Street, the privately held company has become a major Internet and retail presence, posting double-digit growth every year since 2007. MZ Wallace products, which now include wallets, clutches and iPad cases, are sold in over 400 venues worldwide. "We wanted to make an accessible bag in high-low nylon and imported leather, and that's not changed," says Zwirner. "There's incredible variety in the women that our product appeals to. I feel really proud about that." Wallace and Zwirner credit their success to loyal customers and the powerful word-of-mouth recommendations that have spared them from having to invest in advertising or PR campaigns. They even once shut down their shop so that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could Christmas shop in peace (per her request). Despite the brand's growing popularity, the duo remains humble. Every Friday, they gather their 25 employees (and sometimes guest collaborators) for convivial lunches at their Selldorf-designed studio space in SoHo. During the summer, the lunches become cocktail parties. When sample bags arrive, all employees are encouraged to test them out and report their flaws. "We wanted to create an atmosphere where people take risks," says Wallace. "Because that's where the great ideas come from." Contemporary art has been a part of MZ Wallace's DNA since its inception. At left, an early collaboration with Marcel Dzama.

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