With its sculptural designs, architectural detailing and competitive pricing, contemporary luxury bag brand Danse Lente may only be one year old, but it is already making waves on the accessories scene.
Youngwon kim director of danse lente
Few brands achieve cult popularity and stellar stockists in their debut season, and even fewer secure both from their first-ever showroom. But accessibly priced London accessories brand Danse Lente is the exception to the rule.
The brand launched exclusively on Net-a-Porter in April 2017, just two months after the luxury etailer discovered its initial seasonless collection via that first showroom in Paris. Since then, Danse Lente’s minimalist, structural bags have become the darling of the fashion crowd, and have garnered it a following of 31,000 fans and counting on Instagram, all after only one year in business.
Having graduated from the MA Footwear course from the London College of Fashion’s prestigious Cordwainers in 2013, Danse Lente’s founder and designer Youngwon Kim initially pursued freelance design projects. In 2016, she set out to create her own accessories brand based on the experience she had gained.
“When I graduated I designed things quite conceptually and creatively,” she explains. “After two years freelancing I knew the realities of design a bit more, so I create more commercial styles [now]. I try to be a bit more subtle and simplified.”
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The name – French for “slow dance” – comes from Kim’s hope that her customers get “a feeling of uplift from the bag, but not overexcited – just giving a lift to everyday life”.
Despite her footwear training, she was drawn to bag design for both creative and practical reasons: “I love shoe design, but you have to form everything around that specific shoe shape. The handbag offers more freedom. It’s harder to do footwear as a small business, too – there are a lot of sizes to produce for each design, for example, whereas there’s only one handbag size.”
This simplicity comes through in a collection with minimalist yet unusual shapes – such as 3D pentagonal totes or solid cylindrical bucket bags – as well as a muted palette and a focus on unusual and quirky adornments.
“When I design I try to focus on creating an impression that is a little different,” says Kim. “I make these differences by twisting some familiar detail of the handbag. An unexpected detail in the fastening or the shape. I really try to twist it so that I can create something unexpected.”
The brand’s best seller is the “Mini Johnny” style, a six-sided bag with a short looped handle and chunky metal hardware. Danse Lente pitches itself as accessible luxury, and the Mini Johnny retails for £295. An entry-level wallet is for £150, while a large bucket tote bag is £485.
The brand now has around 80 stockists worldwide, among them Net-a-Porter, Selfridges and Le Bon Marché in Paris. It is also a favourite among independents – Hale-based Basil & Bea, for example, has stocked the brand since its pre-spring 2018 collection. Kim declines to reveal sales figures, but says the brand “grew quite quickly” through being sold on Net-a-Porter.
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“The functional design and overall aesthetic of the collection sets them apart from the generic luxury bag brands,” explains Hari Martin, founder of Basil & Bea. “Danse offers an individual style for my customers at a great price point. The practicality of the simple designs has clearly caught my consumer’s eye and it is proving to be a great success.”
Danse Lente’s spring 18 collection consists of 11 bag styles, plus three wallets and card holders. Two bag additions, the Bobbi and the Margot, are set to be introduced for pre-autumn 18 and autumn 18 respectively. Sticking with the successful theme of practical, sculptural yet directional designs, the new season creations were inspired by the brand’s East London studio, where Kim now works with a team of seven.
“I tried to put a bit of a ‘street fashion’ spin on things,” says Kim. “In London there are a lot of traditional buildings and architecture, but also a lot of young creative people who look very modern and colourful – the contrast was very interesting for me to explore.”
The appetite for entry-level luxury bags is strong, and brands such as Yuzefi, Boyy, Cult Gaia and Wandler are also gaining traction in the market along with strong social media followings. However, with its youthful approach and playful yet sophisticated designs, which are less conceptually experimental than some competitors, Danse Lente stands above the crowd for long-term appeal.