Savette Designer Amy Zurek Makes Handbags Into Heirlooms

The designer, who is behind one of today’s most in-demand cult bag brands, discusses the importance of well-loved accessories.

by Christina Holevas

Savette campaign imagery
Courtesy of Savette

Amy Zurek, founder and designer of the cult handbag label Savette, is not interested in Instagram trends. The L.A. native, who studied fine art and art history and had design stints at The Row, Khaite, and Coach, instead focuses her efforts on making Savette handbags modern heirlooms—pieces that will be handed down through generations and improve with age. As a result, their classic lines and hardware eschew the endless parade of fashion micro-trends; but despite her aversion to Insta-fame, she may still be courting it, albeit effortlessly. Savette’s chic shapes have been spotted on the arms of Emily Ratajkowski, Karlie Kloss, and Lady Gaga, just to name a few. (You may have clocked them on some of the most stylish non-celebs on your feed, as well.) We caught up with the designer for a Style Notes interview as she was preparing for the launch of her pre-fall collection, which went live on June 1st.

How did you get your start as a designer?

After studying fine art and art history as an undergrad, I went on to study fashion design and ready-to-wear at Parsons. But I really gravitated toward more of the left-brain side of design: I love pattern-making and tailoring, the things that are more planned and thoughtful and less fluid, if you know what I mean. That made accessories a natural fit since they’re really about an ergonomic, almost architectural way of designing.

Courtesy of Savette

While at Parsons, I got an internship with The Row in the handbag design department and that’s where I felt like everything fell into place for me. From there, I worked at Coach for a few years—which is obviously a very different kind of company, both in terms of aesthetic and in terms of production process and philosophy. Those two jobs gave me this broad base on which to build what I wanted to do when I founded my own brand.

Then in 2018, I started with Khaite and worked with Cate Holstein to launch the handbag line together, from the ground up. There wasn’t any kind of an accessories language in place [at the brand] at that time. Then I started Savette a little over a year ago now.

Did you always know that you wanted to start your own brand?

No, I didn’t. It’s kind of an unlikely thing because I’m a very shy person, so going out on a limb was a little bit out of character for me. But what really drove me to do it was the product I felt was missing in the marketplace, which I really wanted to make: bags that were just high-quality and well-crafted, but not completely anonymous and austere, with a touch of something recognizable and covetable that wasn’t a logo. I started to do that development around 2019, but I didn’t have a concrete idea where it would go. That actually enabled me to take my time and refine each bag until I was really happy with them, without having a big launch over my head.

Then the pandemic hit and it seemed super counterintuitive to start a brand based on products that you only need outside your home, so I put the project on pause for a little while. But after a few months in quarantine, I started to sense that women were looking for something to be excited about and covet, even if they weren’t able to wear them out quite yet. And they were also shopping differently—they were reconsidering how to assert their buying power, moving toward investment pieces, and even secondhand luxury pieces, rather than trendier seasonal styles. I wanted to make a product that would fit well into that new ecosystem. So I took the chance.

Courtesy of Savette

Do you have any particular heirlooms, maybe from your family, that inspired this project?

The name Savette is actually a nod to my mother—it’s her maiden name—and my grandmother. They have very disparate styles, but they both have had a big influence on me and ultimately on the bags themselves. My mom’s style is very traditional and refined. She had this funny collection of Tod’s driving moccasins, and she would match them to her bag in the early 2000s. She had a Kelly bag and things like that—Goyard and Gucci. Even before I realized what those things were, I noticed how perfect and harmonious the proportions were. You could sense they exuded luxury and sophistication, even if you didn’t know where they came from or what the price was. In contrast, my grandma’s style was super irreverent, modern, and fun: she collected sterling silver jewelry from Georg Jensen and William Spratling Sterling from Mexico. She would bring things home from all her travels, and I have various things from her that I’ve collected over the years.

There’s been some celebrity buzz around Savette. What has it been like to see Karlie Kloss and other stars wearing your bags?

What’s so great about them wearing the bags is that they didn’t just wear them once, but repeatedly. I feel like that’s a testimony to the brand and the product: they continue to reach for it when they get dressed. It’s not just something that’s been placed on them.

Courtesy of Savette

Onto the Style Notes questions. What was the last thing you purchased?

I just bought a bunch of old Le Monde d’Hermès magazines. I collect them, and was able to complete my ’90s collection.

What is your style pet peeve?

These super fleeting micro trends: like, when you see a very specific item on Instagram and a week later, that same item is styled the exact same way all over the feed, and then it disappears.

What was your style like as a teenager?

I grew up in L.A., and my friends and I would make this pilgrimage out to the Rose Bowl Flea Market every second Sunday of the month. We would hunt for predominantly vintage t-shirts, but also jewelry, Levi’s, and boots; the more worn-in and the more holes something had in it, the more we loved it. Then we would pair that with a Balenciaga motorcycle bag and way too many bangles.

Courtesy of Savette

What is the best fashion advice you've ever received?

It’s a little pithy, but someone once told me if you’re feeling down you should dress up. I think that works most of the time.

What is the most prized possession in your closet?

My most prized possession and my first major fashion purchase are one and the same: a Chanel classic bag that I bought from Neiman Marcus. I specifically remember it was $1,700 at the time. That seemed so expensive back then, and it’s staggering when you consider the current retail price for that bag. At this point, it’s super worn and well-loved and it almost looks vintage—but I think it’s special to know that all my experiences over the years informed how it looks today. It’s like my own personal heirloom.

What’s always in your bag?

People sometimes ask me why the Savette bags are mostly small and structured. That’s because I don’t carry much. With what I do have, I like to be very organized. I have my phone, keys, and a card holder. I hate big wallets. I also have a tiny little Prada nylon pouch that has emergency Band-Aids and Advil—gotta be prepared.

Who is your ultimate style icon?

I don’t necessarily have one. Maybe Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, minus the headband.

Do you have a biggest fashion regret?

Well, I attended Coachella several times, so let’s just leave it at that.

Did you wear bangles?

I think there were some bangle bracelets involved.