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What do your handbag and Leonardo da Vinci have in common?

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Stumped? Imagine for just a moment a workshop strewn with tools – hammers, tongs, punches, brushes, measuring instruments. Through a window a stream of light flecked with dust falls on a man, hair slightly disheveled, beard untrimmed, holding a sketchbook filled with figures and calculations scribbled in the margins. His focus is razor-sharp, energy so fervent it’s palpable…

Sound like a scene from Leonardo da Vinci’s workshop in Florence? Think again. You’re at the headquarters of Le Panier in Sicily, and the prototype on the worktable isn’t a 15th century flying machine but a 21st century handbag, and it’s currently surrounded by a flurry of inventors studying its every move. In their midst the man with the sketchbook, Michele Lopez, fixates on the object in question with almost predatory attention.

“We have to observe the bag from different perspectives,” he insists, “just like Da Vinci drew maps of cities from a bird’s eye view hundreds of years ago. We have to see how it dialogues with its surroundings, the woman carrying it and the contents inside.”

A modern-day Renaissance man, Michele has a head full of know-how and inexhaustible zeal. In 2013 he founded Le Panier (French for “basket”) with a handful of fellow designers hailing from Italy’s top fashion houses, and the small but mighty handbag producer has grown by leaps and bounds ever since. Just under twenty in number with a median age somewhere on the GenY spectrum, each member of the Le Panier staff has apprenticed with top experts in the leather and textile industries and is adeptly trained to jump on the production line in any phase, from R&D to modeling, machinery operation to intricate handiwork. 

But what really sets the Le Panier team apart from other Italian manufacturers isn’t their youth, size or versatility, but their centuries-old approach to craftmanship coupled with a New World imagination. “True artisanry isn’t in the hand,” Michele reveals. “It’s in the mind.” Skills like stitching are easily taught, he explains, but at Le Panier creativity is the defining trademark and modus operandi.

True to his word, step one for any bag made at Le Panier entails an all-staff brainstorming session where the female fashionista becomes their muse, and ideas are tossed back and forth on her style, personality, needs and demeanor. “We don’t design bags for brands,” Michele emphasizes. “We design bags for women. And a Gucci woman isn’t the same as a Coccinelle woman, or a Hermès woman.”

Size, rigidity, curves, lines, straps, closures, pockets, bold colors or soft hues all come into consideration when contemplating the feminine ideal. From there a prototype is born using state-of-the-art 3D technology, allowing Le Panier’s designers to gauge proportions and view the handbag from every angle. Then, “it’s playtime,” Michele quips, as the team experiments with an array of materials and determines which work harmoniously together and where reinforcements are needed. Finally, the functionality and aesthetics of the finished model are put to the test  – from how it feels in the hand or hangs on the shoulder, to how effortlessly flaps and compartments open and close, to how well the bag stands on its own or yields softly to gravity.

For the Rossi & Rei satchel, Michele and his team envisioned a dynamic woman with a bustling career, life on-the-move and dauntless self-confidence. She’s a woman in search of a connection with the world around her, so rather than an oversized, rigid bag that puts a barrier between herself and others, or a soft carry-all that suggests a more impromptu, leisurely air, this handbag’s elegant curves and semi-rigid exterior accentuate her aplomb and poise. “It has lines that arch like a cupola and material that catches the light,” recounts Michele, “and instead of overpowering her, the bag silently emphasizes who she already is.”

And isn’t that the essence of luxury after all? Dressing yourself to reveal exactly who you are?

Michele definitely concurs, throwing in his own two cents: “Luxury is when you don’t choose a product, it chooses you, and your answer is ‘yes’.”

Shhh… listen.

We’re pretty certain we just heard our Rossi & Rei bag whisper, “you’re mine.” Did you hear it too?