Long before moving to Paris in 2009, dreams of the City of Light filled my mind and many a conversation. Ever since my first visit as a university student in London, I felt drawn to the ethereal sophistication of the city. I longed to wander down the cobbled streets, to conjugate French verbs while sipping a café crème on a terraced café with a fresh pain au chocolat. To live my very own Parisian cliché. Would it be possible for me to trade my New York job with a Parisian colleague? After all, we held similar roles in the same global advertising agency. Or perhaps I could hop off the corporate ladder, pack a bag, and rent a chambre de bonne. Alas, neither path was my destiny. Nor was it the right time.
The fantasy of living la vie Parisienne reappeared after I accomplished another lifelong dream, one of traveling the world to 32 countries in 13 months. (Yes, I was counting and yes, one of those countries was France.) Actually, the deciding factor was a pair of smiling eyes I encountered on Prince Street en route to my yoga class. They belonged to a passionate Italian, living in Paris. We exchanged a few words and soon afterward, the promise of meeting again. Five months later, my bags were packed and my Paris chapter began.
Discovering a new passion
I settled into our 18th-century apartment in the heart of the Haut Marais and set about my new life, blissfully oblivious to how difficult creating a Parisian life would be without a network or any knowledge of French. I signed up for language classes, applied for jobs, and took many moments to smell the roses in the blooming gardens lining my neighborhood. I quickly learned that my eternal optimism and decade-long New York City work experience were no match for the Parisians.
Humility became a daily lesson as I struggled to redefine myself.
It was during my long walks home from French class that I noticed Parisian women carrying flimsy tote bags or hauling their groceries in plastic bags. With a clear lack of fashionable fabric bags in the fashion capital, I decided to follow a new dream – designing stylish sustainable handbags. Having zero contacts, I was unaware of where to begin. After purchasing fabrics in Montmartre, I scoured the Sentier neighborhood listening for the buzz of sewing machines that I hoped would lead me to an atelier. With no luck, I bought a sewing machine and got to work on samples. It was eventually a fabric merchant who led me to my manufacturer. Months later, Kasia Dietz handbags came to life, and so did I.
I finally had a purpose other than buying lightbulbs at BHV or cooking dinner. Backed by the marketing knowledge I had acquired in my past roles in New York’s corporate world, I gave my love of creation free rein. This one-woman show was on! My first few collections recalled colorful tribal prints, with all of the bags playfully reversible. Having the idea of creating bags as art, I designed a best-selling Paris collection in tribute to my adopted home. Each of these hand-painted totes was dedicated to the Rive Droite or Rive Gauche, creating a fun “which side are you?” debate, as well as highlighting favorite Paris arrondissements. Suggestions as to what to paint on these canvas totes led me to the idea of offering bag painting workshops. This allows both adults and children to create their very own wearable art. I added in a brunch and spa option for even more revelry.
As I continue to evolve, so too do my handbags and clutches. Most recently, I’ve begun incorporating designer remnant leather into my collections. The Alps collection combines wool with leather while the latest clutch collection brings to mind the elegance of Versailles. When a friend asked me to design a “bagless bag” for both men and women, the City Sash collection came to life. Most often it’s the fabric that drives a collection as was the case with my latest Grand Palais totes combining linen and crinkled leather.
To view Kasia’s collection of eco-conscious custom handbags, clutches and totes, click HERE
Sharing elegance and ethics
While working with my nearby atelier, I met fellow artisans also choosing to produce locally. I became intrigued with these independent designers and began stopping by their boutiques for a closer look. I soon realized that many were my neighbors, sharing the fashion-forward Haut Marais neighborhood. To add to my carefully curated wardrobe, much of which I had given away before moving to Paris, I began collecting pieces from these local designers. Each pair of high-waisted jeans or timeless tops became a favorite, far from the usual “fast fashion” disposable items, which appealed to my ethical side.
Eager to share these fashionable wares with other women, I decided to offer custom fashion tours.
Meeting a local designer who creates affordable made-to-measure is what I consider real luxury!
These tours took off for both visitors and ex-pats and even led to designer trunk shows in New York City, San Francisco and Dallas. Needless to say, my own clothing collection is a combination of local Parisian designers and vintage.
Between creating eco-conscious bags and clutches for fashionable women on the go, introducing stylish ladies to independent Parisian designers, and writing about what I’m most passionate about (travel, lifestyle and fashion) in my award-winning blog Love in the City of Light, I found my raison d’être. And it was all thanks to a serendipitous meeting that led me to this soulful new life in Paris.