If you’re able to find a factory in Italy to manufacture your leather products that’s a feat in and of itself, especially a factory not taken over by big fashion conglomerates. And to find a factory that aligns with your ethos and vision is a bigger feat, though challenging, it’s doable. However, to find one willing to manufacture the rarest of bags, that’s almost downright impossible. But, Kristina Thaden was up to the challenge with her luxury bag brand Thaden, which is showcasing during New York Fashion Week that started today and ends September 14th.
Conceived at the end of last year, Thaden has taken the world of handbags by storm, turning heads with its pleated yet sculpted bag, and other bags. Swiss by ethnicity, if one can say that about a product, Thaden, is produced in neighboring Italy. Just about anything coming out of Switzerland is made with the highest of excellence, and Thaden is no different. It is made with Italian precision, yet Swiss luxury tradition.
The Whole Handbags
The Whole Big and The While Medium are the two bags that stumped seasoned Italian manufacturers. “The complexity of the creator’s vision requires the execution of precise curves and geometric pleats in the finest leather, and this seemed technically unattainable,” states house note. But then came Luigi, a craftsman willing to step up and manufacture Kristina’s vision to the world.
“Luigi, who is now 89 years old, is one of the biggest masters of his craft. He was the first and only one who had the confidence to develop it. We have discussed a lot, as it is always very loud when we don’t agree. But the wonderful cliché is that we like each other very much and at lunch we always eat together at the big table,” says Kristina.
She’s involved in every step of the production process, wanting to know everything about implementation along the way. “In the conversations about making the Whole Bag I have acquired a good technical understanding,” she says.
“The Whole handbag is inspired by my obsession with all kinds of shapes and the Japanese philosophy of “Ma”- the space between things. The excitement is what happens there, where nothing takes place. So much can emerge from there. Even as a director, I found it so exciting to explore what happens next to the representation, in the empty space. If you pay attention to the space between things, to what is missing, what is unsaid, what is unformed, you experience the unexpected, and it is as important as the work of art itself. Out of this emptiness comes dynamism, a space is filled,” she muses. “I want to capture this dynamic, as if I were freezing an interaction and capturing it in a wearable sculpture. The Whole offers so much – to fill the space between things, with yourself, with your own character, your own personality. With an incredible aura.”
Finding inspiration constantly, Kristina stresses that what she sees in a thing, someone else will see something different and create something different- and that’s what happened with the creation of the Whole handbags. “I believe in the need to keep childlike curiosity alive in this regard. For example, a photo of a motorway interchange in Los Angeles recently inspired me to make a blouse. It could also have become a sculpture. Genuine inspiration expands, it’s fluid.”
How Thaden came about
Creativity has always been in Kristina’s soul. Having partaken in acting, singing, and directing her own theater group, she’s always felt the need to express herself. My life path combines art and business in a beautiful and efficient way. Already at the age of 6 it was clear to me that I needed to express my creativity and that I belonged to the stage. I started to write plays in primary school, and as I grew I played leading roles, wrote poems, and performed ballet. At the age of 14, I got the leading role in a radio sitcom in Germany. Later, I completed musical education, studying acting, directing and speaking, to then founding and directing with great joy my own theatre ensemble.”
And then, before launching Thaden, Kristina was the managing director of a Swiss construction company. But she had already shown aptitude in the business world before that: “To finance my temporarily unprofitable passion, I took a job in a market research company, rose to team leader and also offered training to business leaders who wanted to improve and optimize their performance. This eventually led me down the path of business. I completed project management training and furthered my education in organizational development, coaching and HR.”
“In my corporate career I have trained and coached female C-level executives for many years and I have always encouraged their leadership in my teams – female empowerment has always been close to my heart and Thaden is a tribute to the wonderful being woman. In my last position, I was appointed Deputy Managing Director in a medium-sized construction company in Switzerland. During this time, I also worked continuously on my design ideas and gave some space to other projects like writing a novel, classical singing, photography. I found myself longing for more creativity, more expression in my life, and I knew at that time that I had strong management skills, and that I had learned a lot in the last years. So, the time was ripe and the idea of combining creativity and management became clearer and clearer. The pandemic gave me the impetus to start the Thaden Project. And so, I began this wonderful journey.”
Not stalling to start, Kristina found the decision to launch exhilarating. “I am basically a rather anxious person, I don’t like to go on a roller coaster, I don’t like to skydive, a lot of things scare me. But when it comes to my ideas, which I have thought through and calculated very carefully, I don’t hesitate for long. Moreover, my creative personality helps me. I’m good at finding solutions. But it may be an advantage (at least for mental attitude) that we can’t predict challenges, let´s call it a useful founder naivety. Otherwise, we’d never start at all because so many things go differently than planned.”
Not every day is the same, but her days fluctuate between creative days and business days, of which she calls ‘an entrepreneur’s rodeo.’ “I have a schedule for each activity. First, I check my emails, all the social media channels, read news, then I look at my forever long to do list that I prioritized the night before, many phone calls, many trips to Italy for production. Because of my background in the arts and the less managed approach there, I have created a strong structure in my later professional life that can withstand great stress. And when it gets too challenging and I don’t know what to do, I get up and dance across the room or go for a walk. I have to consciously take time-off because as an entrepreneur you need to be prepared to run a marathon, not a sprint.”
Her creative days lead way to unplugging from being online and plugging into creating where Kristina draws, walks, stares into what she calls ‘nothingness,’ letting ideas flow while building them a ‘palace’ of their own. But the truth is, Kristina wears many hats at the same time, as so many small businesses do. “Everything is demanded of me at the same time,” she says. But find the business and creative balance is all about knowing how to manage, and for her, she finds it a positive and a challenge at the same time.
A challenge she has found as the founder versus managing is remaining clear on her goals. “For instance, with the service providers I chose for my label it is crucial to make the right financial decisions. Women often have inhibitions to stand up for what they want. I am not afraid to say that, as a founder of my own brand, I have made mistakes and lost money because I chose to ignore those signals that intuitively indicated something was wrong. Running your own business is something different than being a manager in a corporate context. There is only myself and my decisions first hand and, from this perspective this requires a lot of growth in a short time.”
If you look at Thaden’s bags they are uniquely shaped and appealing to women. They’re also intricate and complexly shaped bags that as Kristina notes, “they connect with the inner heroine of every woman.” There’s something about the silhouettes that makes a woman feel, I know you and understand you, I have to carry you. “It speaks to the heart of women and celebrates them – in their whole personality, in all that they are,” continues Kristina. “A Thaden wants to pick you up where you are and not make you into something you are not. If you feel invincible on a day, great, take your Thaden bag and set off fireworks. If you feel insecure, let your Thaden show what a beautiful personality you are.”
One other Thaden bag is The Little Rocket, which can also be made in Ostrich or Calfskin, with Lambskin Nappa for the interior. With the bag’s circular shape, the bottom catches your attention with its semicircular arch. The handle is very much circular giving it a sleek yet luxurious look.
“5 years ago, I was traveling with my husband and one evening we were sitting in a bar on a hill in Palm Springs. The half-moon was shining big and bright. It was at that moment that the idea of the shape of a reclining moon first came to me and also the idea of creating bags very specifically, which I told my husband about. Fortunately, my husband supports me and my ideas greatly and he encouraged the ideas. The bag mainly comes from my obsession for perfect shapes. I always ask myself, ‘what does a shape want to be?’ I just have to listen, look, feel, then it almost shapes itself. For me, the Little Rocket stands for femininity, for feminine lines, for softness. It’s the little energy rocket and a decorative adornment on the wrist. My bags always have many points of reference, many levels of meaning and a Thaden should always be a wonderful support for the personality of the wearer.”
Kristina’s goal for the brand is simple. To make Thaden accessible for more people. As the brand is starting to take off and really catch people’s attention, her goal is to make it a lifestyle brand that flows away from fast fashion to timeless investment pieces that lift up the environment. “It needs to embody uncompromising quality, craftsmanship, and an artistic touch and style in all areas. I want Thaden to contribute, away from quick consumption, according to the motto: buy high quality, buy little and pass it on to your children. With Thaden, be it a handbag, clothes, interior, you should be able to wrap yourself around, feel safe and strong and above all be seen and respected in your personality,” she says.
Out and about during this ready-to-wear fashion week season, Kristina can be seen at the Juju showroom during New York Fashion Week, where those interested can see the signature Whole handbags. She’ll also be at Paris Fashion Week, showcasing at a gallery in Le Marais district in the 4th arrondissement.