Sharon Wilkes is a woman of many talents. She started her professional life with a successful career in the fashion industry before pivoting to activism and Jewish causes. But creative talent can seldom stay silent, and in Wilkes’ case, the reawakening of her passion came in the form of a creative gift for her daughter’s wedding. The present –a stunning leather purse with the image of a beloved pet- evolved into a full-fledged luxury handbag brand.
Q. Which elements from your Jewish upbringing influenced your creative process?
A. The primary influence in being a designer was my beloved Omama, Serafina Landau, who was a designer in Vienna, and who shared a successful business with her older sisters until the Anschluss in Austria. She was a fashionista and a strong Zionist.
Q. Was fashion a part of your Jewish experience growing up?
A. I grew up in New York. It was the “Mrs. Maisel” era of American Jewry, and Jews manifested their success by dressing beautifully for synagogue. My dad would always notice what I was wearing; it was a way to capture his attention. My mother, as a performer, was very glamorous and made sure her children were well-groomed. The subconscious message was “always look lovely and well-groomed; it speaks before you do.”
Q. How did the purse you created for your daughter’s wedding come to fruition?
A. Before getting married, my daughter Michaela asked if I could design her bridal gown. While living in Tel Aviv, she acquired a gorgeous beagle named Loki. Since I was already working with an embroidery company in India, they helped me create a bag with Loki’s image in embroidery and sequins as a surprise for her. Michaela loved the bag and was thrilled to have it.
Q. So how did you end up manufacturing the Sharon Wilkes bags in artisan factories in Italy?
A. My grandparents and their children were saved from being deported to a concentration camp by the Italian consulate in Vienna. Thus, we have a special connection with Italy. My company continued with theme bags, but on a very professional level. We can customize any image and print it on Satin with heat-fix crystals, soft metallic linen, or leather.
Q. Would you share tips on how to pair handbags with outfits for special Jewish occasions?
A. For a bar or bat mitzvah, a patchwork Natalie – a convertible crossbody that can also be worn as a shoulder or clutch, makes a perfect “shul” bag.
For B’nai mitzvah celebrations and weddings, the Maria bag has a unique draped handle that easily fits a cell phone and has a built-in card case.
The side-handle Renata clutch is a pretty accent to any evening ensemble and comes in several classic metallic shades. In addition, many of our evening bags have handles that can be worn on the arm, freeing the hands during cocktail hour!
We can make customized bridal bags in most styles from our catalog. The base is the same satin color as the gown and with accents of lace or embroidery from the original dress. Or we make bespoke, like the original Loki bag, with the image of the couple’s favorite pet or city.
Visit sharonwilkes.com to find beautiful non-endangered exotic skin bags in fabulous colors and combinations. In honor of Sukkot, L’CHAIM readers will receive an 18% discount and free shipping through the end of October; use code LCHAIM.