I was first introduced to this designer handbag back in 2014 during my 20th Wedding Anniversary trip to Paris. I’m a bag lady. Simple bags. No monogram. No bling. No chain-link. No “hey, look at me” over-the-top gaudiness on my arm. Just simple lines and rich colors.
My first Masha Keja bag is resting next to me in the picture above. I usually don’t do red, but I had to have that one.
The other reason I’m in love with this brand is because of the husband-and-wife team behind it. A trip to Paris is not complete without visiting Olivier and Masha. Olivier has been one of my many French teachers, pushing me to master the language. Masha is my fashion design guru. Both of my mentors are warm, friendly, knowledgeable and, above all, dedicated. With two shops in the Marais section of Paris, you are sure to find something you love.
I have never been a tote girl; growing up in Brooklyn and riding the New York City Subways, I’ve always valued the protection of zippers. However, during one of my many trips to the Masha Keja Boutique located on Rue Vieille du Temple – just off of Rue de Rivoli – I fell in love with their tote line. No logos. No signatures. No gaudiness. It is sturdy and dependable. The inside, flanked by two zipped compartments, is roomy. The straps are just the right length, allowing the bag to rest comfortably at the top of the hips.
A visit to the Rue de Jarente Boutique, not too far from my favorite church in all of Paris, St. Paul St. Louis, is where I’ll spend hours talking with Masha about fashion. As a former model, as well as having worked for luxury brand designers, Masha knows the ins and outs of the fashion world. During my last trip, the Fall of 2015, Masha became my teacher, giving me lessons, as well as homework assignments, which called for visits to some of the most prestigious fashion houses in Paris. I loved and dreaded every minute of it.
As I’ve stated in an earlier post, I’m new to fashion. It’s intimidating. It’s subjective. It’s extravagant. It’s guarded by Gatekeepers whose language I have yet to master. Then why would I want to venture down this road? I like a challenge. Also, I find fashion to be yet another form of art. There’s a craft that must be learned and mastered. Having grown up in the home of a seamstress, I know the dedication it takes to create something as simple as a shirt or a pair of pants. Each cut, each stitch must be made with such precision as to render itself invisible to the final piece of work. Poor craftsmanship guarantees mediocrity. Skill alone does not guarantee success. There is that eye for elegance, for artistry, for glamour, for all the things it takes to bring it to that next level -ish.
As with most art, accessibility is always an issue. Those who have and those who don’t. For a long time, I straddled the middle – those with guilt. Why on Earth would I spend money on expensive clothes and accessories? This is a guilt I still feel each and every time I walk into a store. It’s a guilt I’m learning to overcome as I’ve come to realize that these feelings are conditioned. Growing up, I shopped in neighborhoods where second- and third-quality knockoffs were a mainstay. Although they were poorly made, they still came with price tags that challenged the pocketbooks and wallets of underpaid, overlooked People of Color who only wanted to provide for their families like everyone else. Wanting anything beyond these exiguous duds was almost heresy.
I have a complicated relationship with fashion and designer brands, as do most POCs. This idea that we should “stay in our lane” is always there, as well as the question of should we spend hard-earned dollars on labels who don’t include POCs in their marketing and distribution, either because they deem us inconsequential or invisible. Over the years, we have seen a shift, as more and more designers are starting to value not only the amount of dollars People of Color spend on fashion, but the overall contribution we have made to this industry. For more on the subject, check out Fresh Dressed, a documentary directed by Sacha Jenkins and co-produced by Nas.
Bringing it back to Masha Keja. I am grateful for this brand, as well as the friendship my family and I are developing with Masha and Olivier. I’m most grateful for the education and knowledge they have been more than willing to share as I continue along my journey. What is that saying? “An educated consumer is the best customer.” Seeing as I’m a life-long learner committed to excellence, stay tuned for more of my Fashion Forward posts.
Oh, and last year’s Mother’s Day gift…