The Making of an (Anti) It-Bag:
Danse Lente and the Woman Behind It

There can be too much of a good thing—and the It bag fever of the late nineties/early aughts is certainly proof of that. The Baguette (did you know the name comes from the loaf of bread carried similarly under the arm?), The Paddington, The Stam, The Speedy (Murakami version), The Muse, The Lariat: all are now ghosts of fashion moments past. However, these were the names (and shapes) of the time, signifying two things: you were in the know and you had skipped the waiting list. Status, check.


Fast-forward to now, when a handbag label by the name of Danse Lente has emerged as what one would describe as an It bag, if only for a lack of a better word. Selling more units than any other handbag label in its first day on Moda, it resonated immediately—not because of its name (one most had never heard of) or its flashy aesthetic (it’s anything but), but for a design inspired by architecture and one that conveys a graceful ease (hence the name, which translates to “Slow Dance” in French). Bucking the conventional It bag appeal (only called so because of its immediate popularity), it is as individual as it is democratic: it doesn’t dictate your look (in fact, it’s somewhat of a chameleon to the wearer’s style) and its price doesn’t limit it to the financially elite (styles cap at about $500).


With a handbag truly as good as it sounds (and looks), there are so many questions to be answered—not the least of which is, who is the designer? Megan Hayes sat down with Youngwon Kim to find out how she landed at the head of the It label, what makes Danse Lente unique and more. Read on.

Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in South Korea, I studied in London and now I am based in London.


What was the impetus to launch your brand?
As a designer, I wanted to be able to make key decisions in the process of making a bag so that I could have more freedom and control in my designs.


Can you tell me a little bit about your background—how did you find yourself designing what we’re calling the next wave of It bags?
I graduated from London College of Fashion with a Masters degree in Footwear. My design background is rooted in accessories (I started with footwear, then moved to shades and now I’m doing bags). When I designed footwear and shades, I often felt limitations as their functions are tightly linked with specific parts of the human body (feet, eyes). With bags, I feel a lot more liberated in the way I approach the design as I get to play more with lines, shapes and volumes.


It seems like you’re an overnight success. Did you expect such a quick, incredibly positive reaction?
For a start-up brand, I don’t call it a success as of yet. I still have a long way to go.


What qualities make Danse Lente unique?
I like to make things appear simple and effortless, yet full of details to discover. It often means taking on some basic elements in the design of a bag that we’re used to and twisting them in many directions to discover a different and appealing look. I guess that quality of familiarity and twist is what makes Danse Lente unique.


What three words would you use to describe the brand?
Playful, different, and classic.


What does the name mean? Why did you choose it?
Danse Lente means Slow Dance in French. When you think of dance you picture movement and motion. I quite simply want to bring that uplifting mood and joy of dance into our bags, and also in the ways the consumers may perceive our brand. Slow Dance also has some feeling of elegance, which gives a certain attitude to our brand identity.


Your price point is so competitive. How do you achieve affordability without sacrificing style and quality?
It’s always difficult to manage that balance between quality and price. I’ve seen many designers’ brands disappear quickly because pricing is not competitive in the market. I really try hard to embrace the limitations set by affordable pricing and challenge myself to find a design that really works with the realities of manufacturing. I take this into consideration early on in the design process, but I have to admit it’s hard!


Your designs are notable for their unique hardware. How did you come up with the idea for spiral binding handles?
I saw a London map bound on a spiral hook and hung in a café that I used to go to.


What was the inspiration for the brand’s signature keyhole strap fastening?
I wanted to take Sam Brown fastening, used widely in bags, and fuse it with a keyhole to come up with a new, different look and system that also functionally works.


Who is your ideal customer? Does the price point reflect the age of the woman you see wearing the bag?
I try not to define a specific target group and override the whole process just to reach that. I would like to be able to design free of that, and still reach a wider spectrum of people with our design. Through the course of the brand development, I may have to get more specific with the target.


Your website cites modern architecture as a key source of inspiration. Are there specific architects, cities/buildings or artists that trigger your creative impulse?
I like modernist architects and sculptors such as Brancusi. The ways in which they create the mass volumes containing very simple lines and abstract shapes are very inspiring to me.


How does the style and urban landscape of London inform your design and brand philosophy?
Even if London is saturated with urban culture and fashion, I still find the tradition and cultural richness found in art and history very informative and helpful. It is particularly invaluable when it comes to realizing some of my vague ideas into practice and executing them into fruitful, tangible outcomes.