Since so many media mavens and talking heads have headed to the West Coast for Oscar week, my lunch today with designer Michelle Vale was particularly timely. Just a few days ago, Michelle sent off several of her handbags to LaLa land in hopes that a certain Best Actress nominee will walk down the red carpet carrying one of her creations come Sunday night. If the actress, whose name for the moment is top secret (“But she’s a big Oscar person!”) utters Michelle’s name when she is asked the million dollar question of the night — “Who are you wearing?” — by E!’s Giuliana Rancic, that could mean very big things for the designer. “You never know what’s going to happen,” Michelle told me. “An actress can pick a dress and change her mind at the last minute. She can look in her suitcase and pick up something else. I won’t know until I see her on television.”
No stranger to the celebrity scene, Michelle’s collection of sophisticated, versatile designs that allow women to customize their bags by selecting a variety of different hardware and straps — all made right her in New York City — have been worn by Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Kate Bosworth and Kate Beckinsale. Michelle also managed to score valuable television exposure on Gossip Girl, a favorite of fashionistas everywhere where posh Upper East Siders played by Blake Lively and Leighton Meester toted around the Amex Black cards in Michelle Vale handbags.
While fashion was part of Michelle’s DNA — dad was a senior vice president of Sasson Jeans, favored by aspiring disco divas everywhere in the 80s, and mom once owned a boutique, she never planned on going into the business as a career. “I used to go to Studio 54 with my father,” Michelle told me. “It was such a big part of my childhood that I wanted to something completely different, so I got a master’s in counseling children which, as it turns out, has come in handy in this business.” It was when the accidental designer got pregnant quickly after getting married that she decided she wanted to do something that allowed her to stay at home with her newborn son. “I literally started the business with my son in my lap,” she said.