Minimal-cool handbags

Arran Frances fuses elegant engineering with originality

Iona cross-body bag, from £545
Iona cross-body bag, from £545 | Image: Diana Patient

A fresh eye from another discipline can work wonders in fashion. In the case of London-based Irish designer Arran Frances Evans, a degree that she describes as “a mixture of design and engineering” and a background in product design are bringing an exciting originality to the overstuffed world of handbags. Her approach puts as much emphasis on materials and function as on aesthetics, resulting in simple and modern styles that are extremely well made. 

From top left: Skye shoulder bag, £515, Cara tote bag, £600, and Texa bucket bag, from £395
From top left: Skye shoulder bag, £515, Cara tote bag, £600, and Texa bucket bag, from £395

“My sister asked for a birthday present of a backpack to wear while cycling,” explains Evans of her first foray into fashion. “But then she changed her mind and decided she’d never wear a backpack. So I designed one that would convert into a cross-body bag. She was happy, I made more and the idea snowballed.” Nearly two years ago, after striking up a deal with a top Italian manufacturer, she launched Arran Frances online with a very clear viewpoint and just one style, all originally designed in 3D rather than sketch form so she knows they “work”. 

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“I love structural materials, including the rubber cord that is often used to stiffen handles,” she says. “Why cover it in leather when it looks so cool?” This is the case with the Cara tote bag (£600), where the double shoulder straps in clear or black rubber hold up a boxy body of Italian leather that is big enough to hold a laptop. The same strapping is used on the cross-body Iona (£545-£565) – with a rose-gold-plated topping on the handle, for strength and elegance, and leather in a variety of subtle, interesting colours and two-tone combos. “A double handle on the Skye shoulder bag [£515] spreads the load and the metal circle handle on the small Texa bucket bag [£395-£415] is like a bracelet.”

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Evans’ smart online-only shop is an object lesson in how to do small beautifully, but change is afoot. She is talking with selected retailers, which would mean a big step up in production, and is eventually planning to use vegan materials. “Some are still a little rough and ready for our standards, but I’m confident we’re nearly there,” she says. “Leather processing is not very environmental and I don’t want to be part of the problem.” Genuinely fresh voices in this industry are not common, but Evans is certainly one.

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