From Supermodel to Designer: Yliana Yepez Dishes on Her Handbag Line

Designer, wife, and mother of five, Parisian born Venezuelan Yliana Yepez, has had a life full of runway shows, diplomatic parties, and globetrotting. Drawing on this background Yepez moved to New York ready to take on the Big Apple and start her own line of handbags. After four years of dedication and perseverance, (and a little of America’s strange business practices) Yepez is launching a new line of handbags set to release this August. The collection merges her travels, design experience, and her busy lifestyle to create a sophisticated and functional look that is going to beg for a place in your closet.
When bringing her line over to New York, the former supermodel didn't realize just how difficult the transition would be. Having started her own handbag line, Blues, in Venezuela, Yepez came to New York assuming things would be very much the same, “I thought it was going to be a piece of cake. If I did it there, which is crazy, people are dying, people are killing each other—this is going to be a piece of cake! It wasn't.” Having been a celebrity, successful entrepreneur, and designer in Venezuela, media darling Yepez was used to popularity from a young age, “I was used to success. I was used to already a certain level of people knowing who I was, I was already spoiled by the press so I didn't have to work—not work like I was working in New York—like, I do everything! I have to buy my own computer, I have to buy my own staple things […] when I started in Blues I did it for the first five years but then after that I hired people to do that for me […]I had to start over again since I moved to New York and it was very hard.”
Something she did find easier was our technology; their “technology is not as advanced as the U.S. is” things like ongoing social media, emails, and the internet are allowing Yepez to grow her business. “Venezuela sometimes turns off the internet connection because it’s based on political things[…]the president or people are on the street because they raised the new price of oil; they shut down the internet.” Our internet is everywhere: on our phones, our coffee shops, our cars, our planes, imagine not being able to tweet about the new pair of shoes you just bought. “You have internet all day, it’s part of your day it’s part of your life […] they’re not going to shut down your internet.”
Culturally the differences were strange for Yepez to grasp, but with the state of her country and her drive to succeed she knew she had to adapt. There are many business practices that still surprise her, in Venezuela “everything is though the telephone…sometimes you don’t get business done if you don’t speak with someone [and see] her eyes. And in New York everything is by email, you don’t need to speak with a person. Those are little things you never think about until they happen to you.” She goes on, excited to explain all the differences between her old and new home, she references our interview, “in Venezuela if you don’t call the person an hour before—maybe she forgot? She has no clue that she’s having an interview. You have to reconfirm. It’s not a done deal already with an email,” she laughs, “[but] now I’m very American.”
Leaving her home country was not purely a business based tactical move. With the political unrest and social situations in Venezuela, Yepez knew she didn’t want to stay any longer. Flying back and forth from America (where two of her five children had moved) to Venezuela made her anxious. With her 7-year-old still at home and in school “I told my husband that because of the political situation it was time for us to move before the government and oppression of the situation keep us from Caracas.” She had a well thought out plan to keep both her family and business safe, “it wasn’t mainly a decision because of my work, it was a decision of family and the situation of my country [that] gave me the reasons to move to New York.” Nine months after they had arrived and settled into a rhythm, finding a home, a workspace, and the children’s schools, Yepez decided to open a studio and start her business in New York.
Being in New York, Yepez realized that she was no longer designing for a Latin market, which made her move in a different artistic direction than she had before with her previous label, Blues. Daily life was different, weather, transportation, even social situations and she wanted to reflect that need for functionally in her bags. “I started designing for myself and I just start thinking ‘what do I need and what is not on the market’” she explains, giving me details of her day, from picking up her kids and going to the park to running to meetings with editors. She wants to create bags for women that are like her: moms, businesswomen, globetrotters, and New Yorkers. Yepez sees a hole that she wants her bags to fill, “where is the market for day to day basic moms that already have the Birkin, the Céline, the Louis ‘V’ and want to find a bag that is $900 or $800 [that is] cool and edgy?”
Being a mother of five, wife, and successful businesswoman could take its toll on anyone, but Yepez doesn’t let it slow her down. “You definitely have to be very organized, “she says, “and I’m very organized, like very, like sickly organized.” With some of her children grown up and in college and others still young and in school she knows she has to balance her work and home, “I have my entire life scheduled and that’s what it is; I can’t change it.” Family being so important to Yepez makes her strive to make sure there is time for both in her life “If I want to be a mother, if I want to be a successful professional, if I want to be a wife, friend, daughter, I mean, I have to manage otherwise it’s impossible.”
When it comes to her designs, her lifestyle has given her the greatest inspiration. Drawing not only from her own life, but also observing from the lives of those around her, “maybe I have the opportunity to sit with the president of Proctor & Gamble, or the president of a bank, or the president of a cosmetics [line], and those women and those wives so […]I saw what they were using and what they were doing.” With diplomatic parents she was no stranger to state dinners and her observations allowed her to create her own unique style. “If I do any crazy combinations it’s always very classic and you can always wear it for any occasion” she says, “even if I do it in gold python they’re classic silhouettes , it doesn’t have a lot of hardware, which—I’m not really in love with hardware.” In contrast to Blues, the Yliana Yepez collection is quite demure. The golds, copper, reds, and nudes of her current line look sophisticated against the brightly colored snake, leopard, and python prints of her first label.
With over 20 years experience designing handbags, Yepez wants her collection to speak to a very specific type of woman, “one that already has an expertise on bags, because they already know what they’re looking for and someone that has that expertise of bags really understands what I’m trying to convey because they have never seen something like this before.” The sleek lines and monochromatic leather prints give each piece a youthful and contemporary, but very classic appearance. Her brand is a melding of ideas; chic modernity and functionality, hobos covert into backpacks, clutches into shoulder bags or crossbodys, “every woman has to have a wow bag—that also suits their needs.” She is currently working on her spring collection which will be introduced September 4th of this year.
The Yliana Yepez collection is available online and and will be available in select Bloomingdale’s August 1st. Prices range from $400-$2500 and limited edition exotic pieces are priced separately.

Marissa Stempien

Marissa Stempien graduated with a degree in English Literature and a minor in Asian Studies from San Francisco State University. Previously a beauty editor, Marissa now utilizes her love and passion of luxurious fashion everyday as Fashion Editor of JustLuxe. Originally from Santa Barbara, CA, Marissa has traveled to various cities across the globe, most recently returning from living abroad...(Read More)

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