It Can Carry Everything but Florida


First Lady Laura Bush may be loath to talk about fashion and style, but she has a keen eye for accessories. The White House recently contacted New York designer Kate Spade about creating a bag that could be given to special guests or friends of the administration.

Spade sent over a selection of five styles of her signature canvas bags, which are made in the United States. The winning style was the "beach bag," an oversize canvas carryall large enough to handle towels, sunscreen and a good beach read. It has been sewn up in navy canvas with red lining and white stitching. And it is a far more satisfying keepsake than a box of White House M&Ms.;

In selecting the bag, Bush played designer and asked for a few alterations. For instance, a cell phone pocket was added, and the dimensions were trimmed slightly. And although the original bag was monogrammed with the owner's initials, these have "The White House" embroidered on one side in the same lettering as the official stationery. The Kate Spade logo is inside the bag.

The first order was a rush, with about two dozen bags produced just before the first lady's recent European trip. An additional 17 have been ordered for her staff. Although the bag's original model, which is somewhat larger, sells for $235, there are no plans to put the White House version on the market.

The lure of having a White House fashion moment can be so strong, so intoxicating, that some designers don't wait until the first lady calls. They come pounding on her door.

Timmy Woods is a handbag designer based in Beverly Hills who for nine years has been making carved wooden totes that look like cats, dogs, big red lips, horse heads and other unlikely objects. They sell for $180 to $350. Woods sees these bags as her destiny: "I had been told by a psychic I'd do something related to my name."

Woods is particularly proud of her horse head bag because it apparently made an appearance on an episode of "Sex and the City." The equine bag reminds one of the last real star turn of a horse head, that being in "The Godfather." One is also reminded of the mantra: It's not personal, it's business. Or, in the case of Woods, it's publicity.

Woods created a White House bag--as in a purse shaped like the actual building--to present to Laura Bush because she thought the first lady was doing a lovely job in her new position.

"I like the fact that Mrs. Bush supports small designers; her inaugural dress was from someone in her neighborhood," Woods said, referring to the wardrobe created by Dallas-based designer Michael Faircloth. "I thought it would be nice to give her a bag for the Fourth of July."

Before sending the bag to Washington, however, Woods was trotting it around the country to be photographed and fondled. One wondered: Can anyone just decide she'd like to present the first lady with a gift and go knocking on the White House door? And can she willy-nilly talk about the presentation in grand but misleading terms? And finally, what's the payoff for sending such a tchotchke to the White House? Bush probably will never carry the bag because it is made overseas (in the Philippines) and, frankly, is ugly.

Never mind the odds, Woods was planning on heading to Washington. Bush, however, had other plans. Namely, she was in Europe with the president. "I didn't realize Mrs. Bush was going to be out of the country. I guess I'll have to present it to her secretary," Woods said. The goal, it seemed, was to simply get the bag inside the White House, rather like serving a summons. That accomplishment would give Woods bragging rights. One would not have been surprised if Woods had attempted to lob the bag through an open window or had tried to coerce Barney or Spot into fetching it.

A key question is why Woods decided to make the bag at all. Bush hasn't actually held her position long enough to have done anything of historical note. Mostly the first lady has remained inscrutable. And she is not known for her love of novelty handbags. Woods points out that many of her customers carry her bags when they are theme dressing--as in dressing like a cloud or a jockey. "You've seen these women around. Around harvest time they carry the pumpkin (bag) or the turkey," Woods said.

Ultimately, Woods said, her design of the White House bag was driven by sheer patriotism. "I'm really, really proud to be an American. I'm really pro-American," she said. "Maybe this is my way of saying thank you."

For what, one can't be sure, unless it is the right to life, liberty and the shameless pursuit of publicity. As for whether anyone can up and present a gift to the first lady, the answer, of course, is no. The bag has yet to be delivered.

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