TRENDER: Handbag Designer Kent Stetson

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


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It all began when someone called his fine art a "nice wall decoration." Hot handbag designer Kent Stetson.

Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers glimpses of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today, accessories designer Kent Stetson, who designs one-of-a-kind bags for collectors around the world. You can get an up-close look at his work this Thursday, June 21st, at a special Style Week Designer Series event from 6-8pm at 269 South Main Street in Providence, Rhode Island.

Homegrown factor: Lives in Providence and has been in RI since 1997.

Age: 33

1. You're a fine artist. You're also a fashion designer. How did one lead to the other? 

For me, there is no distinction between the two in the creative sense. The process of fabrication is exactly the same (between art and fashion).  I literally use the same techniques for making "art" and making "handbags".  The only difference is that the handbags sell themselves.

2. What led you to handbags? 

I had an art show in 2001 and I overheard someone say, "nice wall-decorations".  It really hurt my feelings, because, you know, art-making carried all of this psycho-spiritual heft for me.  I took it so seriously, and this comment made me feel trite.  So, I spent the next couple years processing this comment- and then one day in 2003 I thought, "why does this have to be framed for the wall?"  At the time I was making these large hybrid digital paintings and printing them on canvas from my studio.  As a framing exercise, I sewed one of the prints into a bag.  I sold it later that day to the first person I showed it to.  The lightbulb over my head turned on immediately.  To this day, I realize that there is something specifically really special about bags.  You don't have to be a certain age or have a certain type of body to carry a bag. 

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Kent Stetson Handbags are works of art. His fashion ideology: It’s. All. About. The. BAG.

3. You hand-sew your bags. When and where did you learn to sew?

I am mostly self-taught.  I grew up on a horse farm in New Hampshire and my mother did her own tack repair— I learned some key leather-working skills from watching her fix horse bridles and blankets.  My dad is a blacksmith, and I learned some basics of metal work from him.  I got my first sewing machine 10 years ago.  In the process of learning, I have left a long trail of wonky zombie-like defective handbags.  Right now there are a couple messed-up bags down by my sewing table.  I think I threw them across the room in frustration, and, when time permits, I might pick them back up and try to make them right.

4. You're based in Providence. Why?

After graduating from Brown University in 2001, I decided to stay in Providence—I had friends working on graduate degrees at the time and within a few months after graduating I fell in love.  We've been together now for over 10 years.  My partner, Luis Astudillo, is a Spanish teacher at Classical High School in Providence.  This is our home.

5. What about working as an artist in Rhode Island do you love? What drives you crazy?

I am grateful for all of the resources available to me as an artist here.  The remnants of the once-thriving costume jewelry business are also incredibly helpful.  I like the anecdotes that come from living in such a small state, the seemingly infinite space between any two points that are more than a fifteen minute drive from each other, the native accent, good oysters.  I don't really like the fact that there are proportionally very few people here who collect and support the work of cutting-edge artists.

To see Kent Stetson's bags online, visit his Web site at To see them in person, drop by Style Week's Designer Series event this Thursday, June 21, 6-8pm at 269 South Main St, Providence.

For more Fashion coverage, don't miss GoLocalTV, fresh every day at 4pm and on demand 24/7, here.


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