When you hear the term “handbag designer”, a shiny white retail space with five-figure price tags immediately comes to mind. But in the case of Cindy Cantin, designer of Montreal-based line C Comme Ça, her pieces are all things modern, beautiful, sustainable, meaningful, and at an accessible pricepoint. Cantin has had formal training in art and design and has used this knowledge to turn felt, a material used by ancestors, into a luxury material, having spent much time with Natives communities. Felt (hers is made from merino wool or recycled fibres), aside from being aesthetically pleasing and durable, is also sustainable and water-resistant, making it the perfect material for her iPad and laptop sleeves and chic bags. All these amazing things rolled into one amazing package? (Well, bag....) Yes please!
When did you decide to take your training in art and design and focus it on handbag design?
I finished my studies in Art and Design in 2002. My master’s works were mainly about how we can keep alive our traditional culture in modern object and how an object, especially furniture, can transmit value, message. After I worked in different fields, I decided to create “C comme ÇA” and work with felt, an ancestral material. I first designed sleeves for electronics because the felt absorbs chocks and is water-repellant. Customers keep asking me to design handbags and naturally, I decided to expand the line to handbags. All of my designs are thought to carry electronics. It’s really interesting to work with an ancestral material like felt for modern uses.
What inspired you to begin designing handbags?
The customers, the everyday living, the modern uses.
How was C Comme Ça born?
I decided to quit my job and work to develop my own line. I bought a sewing machine, I had felt, material that I already used, and just decided to explore the material. I did an internship in a small leather company to be sure that it was really what I wanted to do, and the rest just happened.
How would you describe your style as a designer?
Hard to say… the customers tell me that my design is neat, clean, with something original.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Material, simplicity, modernism. I don’t want to redesign just for redesign. Design is thought to be durable, timeless. My design is made to fit in that simplicity, modernity.
Why is it important to you to keep Aboriginal traditions like felt making alive?
I’m not making my own felt. But I think it’s essential to keep tradition because we live in one big global culture. When you travel, you hear the same song on the radio, you see the same fashion trends, you need to have your ancestral culture alive to continue to create your difference, to show people what is exceptional in your culture, to transmit what your culture learned since few millenaries. We think that we are so modern and so advanced, but we have a lot to learn about the ancestral knowing.
Has your ancestry inspired you in other ways?
The nomad native cultures made gorgeous functional objects. The beauty was in the material used and in the function. The nature of things. No time to loose for ornament. Just create everyday living objects with intelligent materials.
Although you use quality materials and hand-make everything, your pieces are very moderately priced; do you feel it’s important to keep it this way?
Depends on the point of view. What I want is to offer affordable items, as well as items that really represent the amount of work put in it. It is important for me to keep my production locally made. The other important thing is to live well of what I’m doing.
How do you like to begin the design process; does it just happen organically?
I draw and work with the materials. I like to let my computer at my desk and go to the cutting table, take some material retails, and then start to work.
If you could work in any city in the world, where would it be and why?
I’m fundamentally a country girl. I really appreciate the nature. The best place would definitively be a quiet place in front of the sea, near a forest, and near a big city. I love Rio de Janeiro. I’m a contrast girl. I like the simplicity in objects, but I like eclectic cities with mixed people. What I noticed in Brazil was the similarity between its handcraft and Quebec ancestral handcraft. It was really interesting.
Other than felt, what is your favourite material to work with?
Leather. I also work with canvas, but I definitively prefer working with felt and leather.
What do you look for in a good handbag design?
Durability, quality material, simplicity, usefulness.
Do you have a favourite piece out of your collection?
Not especially. I’m proud of the classic bags which are my first design. I like all my pieces for different uses.
Which handbag are you carrying at the moment?
Le fourre-tout. I like big bags. You can put your laptop and everything you need for work, and stop at the market and put your purchases in that bag, no need for another one. I really love that bag.
Who would you most like to see wearing your bags?
I went to NY for a show, and Blake Livelly came into my booth and was excited about what she saw. Unfortunately, I was looking around at the show and I didn’t saw her but if I had been at my booth, for sure I would have given her a bag. I think that girl has a good sense of style.
Who are your style icons?
I don’t have any… I don’t like icons.
What is your best seller now?
Comme des garçons bag.
Where do you see yourself/your company in the next five years?
I would like the brand to be recognized in the US and some places in Europe as high quality and intelligent design, felt and leather bags and accessories.
Any plans for expansion beyond handbags?
Yes, but I cannot tell. Lots of competition just looking to know.