“Nancy Gonzalez was one of the first designers to do unexpected treatments with exotic skins, and it makes her designs very unique and fashionable, yet timeless,” said Ana Maria Pimentel, fashion director for women’s accessories for both Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. “Her collection is constantly evolving in terms of her design and her craftsmanship.”
Throughout the years, Gonzalez has stayed true to her love of crocodile, adding other precious skins like ostrich, python and ring lizard. For fall she mixes mink, sable or chinchilla with the skins. For spring/summer, straw or banana leaves.
The exotic skins are tanned in Europe and Asia, and sourced both from inside and outside Colombia, where she is involved in a side operation of crocodile farming.
Each skin is documented, following strict international regulations set by Geneva, Switzerland-based CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of certain species does not threaten their survival.
Still, the killing of animals to use their skins remains controversial.
“The bottom line is that regardless of whether or not an animal is endangered, it makes no difference for him or her when he or she is suffering and being raised and killed to be turned into a handbag,” said Lindsay Rajt, an Oakland, Calif.-based spokesperson for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
For Gonzalez’s bags, much attention is paid to detail. The skins are molded, woven or laser cut, with attachments, such as chains and studs, each covered in skin.
“The quality speaks for itself,” said Pamela Pekerman, a style and accessories expert based in New York. “Her bags are something you could wear every single day of your life and be happy, and give to your daughter some day to borrow. They’re ageless.”
In myriad shades of green, gold, purple, pink and blue, the clutches, totes, framed bags and hobos were on display recently at a fall trunk show at Neiman Marcus Bal Harbour, during Fashion’s Night Out. Prices range from just under $1,000 to $5,000.
“Women really react to them,” said Brittany Rudich, handbag and accessories coordinator for Neiman Marcus Bal Harbour.
Gonzalez greeted guests and signed their bags with a gold Sharpee pen, alongside her daughter, Cristina Barberi, 37, who moved from Los Angeles to Miami Beach earlier this year with her husband and 4-year-old son.
Grisel Ybarra arrived at the trunk show toting a bright red Nancy Gonzalez bag. She planned to bring a green one home (priced at $3,450) to add to her existing collection of 24.
“They’re awesome, very practical, and can be worn day or night,” said Ybarra, 58, an attorney who lives in Coral Gables.
Susie Krissel of South Miami brought one of her 12 Nancy Gonzalez bags, this one a combination skin and cork tote. She came to the event just so she could meet Gonzalez.
“I get compliments every time I carry it,” said Krissel, 64, of her bag, “because it is so unusual.”
Lori Zinn also stopped by, carrying a fur and skin bag she had bought for $2,800 just two weeks earlier at Bergdorf Goodman. She owns several others, as well.
“I love the different styles; I love the colors; I love the skin. I’m an accessories person,” said Zinn, 55, of Miami. “They’re just made for a lady.”