22 June - Finding (h(om)e)

This might sound silly, but I have been coveting a (h(om)e) handbag that I envisioned in my head for at least eight months. Local designer Heather Hambrecht creates one-of-a-kind versatile leather goods -- handbags, "buddha belts", wallets and backpacks. We discussed a holster with three pockets that would allow me to be hands-free -- snug enough to wear under a coat, but loose enough to wear over a tank or vest. I walked into her Bay View studio, which she constructed herself, and fell in love with my new piece. In my adoration for her artwork, Heather also introduced me to an incredible dress. Feminine and edgy. These were my coveted new things.

In working with Heather, there is a very zen-like quality about her as she moves eloquently about the room. Her natural beauty exudes serenity and an all-knowing confidence. In speaking with her, she seems to live in the moment...not knowing necessarily what the future holds, but being open enough to welcome it and strong enough to move through it. I wondered what inspires her style and the history that created her thought process.

For most of her life, Heather was transient. Her travels began at 17, when she graduated early from high school with high marks. She accepted a teaching scholarship in Brazil; thereafter, moved to Vancouver, traveled to Maui, lived in Washington, DC and San Francisco. She reached as far as Tokyo, traveling as a theatrical makeup and wig stylist with different operas (this one in particular featured Placido Domingo.) Being on the road so much, Heather had sewn all her own garments. She found this easier to adjust to the different climates. When Heather accepted an apprenticeship with mentor Jeffrey Frank, owner of a historic landmark theatrical company on the east coast, she packed only her sewing machine and fabric.

Heather recalls being introduced to sewing at a relatively young age. At 11 years old, she asked her mom to make her a dress to fit her tall slim form. So her mother took Heather to buy a pattern and showed her how to thread the sewing machine. She then turned to her daughter and said, "Let me know if you have any questions. Good luck!"

"When in cities where there was no fabric, being on a tight schedule and no means of getting around, I would ask the hotel staff if they had any old sheets or pillow cases," Heather laughed, recalling those memories. For a quick alteration in color, she would pick up RIT dye at the local corner store. If she found herself heading to the coast, and wanted to go for a swim, she made herself a bathing suit out of tights and a pair of scissors. The constant change in environments forced Heather to be resourceful and adjust with the ebb and flow...of life.

And people from the varying operas and strangers began to notice. When exploring a local farmer's market or her favorite pastime of sidewalk sales, strangers would stop Heather and ask where she found her coat or handbag. "It was nice when you didn't know anyone in the city and you meet an interesting person you connect with," recalled Heather. These random people quickly became clients -- all across the country.

What welcome affirmation. When Heather headed back to Milwaukee in 2005 to decompress and reconnect, Kate Blake of Shoo noticed Heather's personal style as well. Kate asked if Heather could bring some handbags into the shop. She managed Heather's expectations and explained in Milwaukee's market, it might take some time for Heather's style to catch on. After the first piece moved, so did Heather's exposure and career. She developed her wearable garments and was featured in several fashion shows. Heather gained distribution in boutiques such as Lela in Milwaukee, Citysoles in Chicago and Minneapolis. The style of each piece showed versatility -- a "multi functional aspect so one can change things out with whatever arises," described Heather. Adaptability is a concept she learned most of her adult life in being on the road.

With the positive vibes she radiates, it certainly seems things come full circle and good fortune finds her. Heather is currently working on several solo and collaborative projects. Some a bit early in inception to discuss; others that gave her a perspective check. "When opportunity knocks, you have to present the best you can," Heather explained.

One opportunity in particular made her take quick inventory of the other side of the art and fashion -- the business side. And it certainly is keeping Heather busy. She recently put together press materials,  a gorgeous boutique book, is in the process of updating her website and ordering more garment tags. "You push yourself as far as you can."

Her work has been described as the "ultimate hug" where a woman slips on her handbag, radiates in the perfect fit and feels beautiful. This is Heather's motivation and joy -- when she sees her customer emotionally happy and the artwork comes to life. "Anything is an object, but when someone incorporates and uses it, then it 'becomes'." Heather adds, "There is something charming, beautiful and magical when my client says, 'This is part of me.'"

I looked at my two new finds and noticed the functionality, interchangeability and edginess which reflected Heather as a person. Heather smiled, "My greatest inspiration is life. Being comfortable in having what you need and adapting things to be totally set in any situation that comes up." I am intrigued how Heather moves about her day, and how she perceives the world. She seems incredibly at ease and at peace. "It is all in the process.... You project what you are doing the next day. Gauge it based upon what you want to do vs. what needs to be done. Take an amazing shower, gear for the day, be reactive in what comes your way. It also depends on how you feel. Often times, if you are tired, take a nap. It's those simple things... If you could really go for Vietnamese food, listen and give yourself those blisses. Life is a stringing of beautiful moments. Like the sound of the wind and breeze coming through the window. Days are so busy with so much you want to do and have to do. Trying to juggle and trying to feel right is a crazy process. But just allow for those beautiful moments."

Sage advice for all...to appreciate and keep the balance.

Heather can be found at www.home-threads.com.