Italian Fashion Brought to Life With Timeless Minimal Chic Handbags
Laura Vogel found her passion for design studying abroad in Italy, influencing her chic line of handbags inspired by Italian fashion
While majoring in finance and marketing at the University of Colorado Boulder, Laura Vogel studied abroad in Italy, where the reality of becoming a designer came to life. Today, she creates chic minimal designs that pay homage to Italy, celebrate femininity and offer timeless style with her brand Vogelle. We sat down with Vogel to learn more about her unique road to designing handbags, her head for business and how she stays inspired to keep growing.
This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.
How did a young woman from Denver get into designing Italian leather handbags, especially only knowing a little bit of Italian?
I started modeling when I was 13 after being scouted by an agent in Highlands Ranch. Traveling all over the world, I was heavily exposed to the fashion industry and met founders and designers with unique backgrounds who had built incredible brands from scratch. Looking back, it’s clear that working with so many different designers and freelancers planted an entrepreneurial seed that I needed to see grow.
I went to the University of Colorado Boulder to study business. I double majored in finance and marketing, and during my freshman year, I participated in the First Year Global Experience (FGX) program. I enrolled in a course at the Leeds Business School studying the importance, history and value of Italian manufacturing, or Made in Italy. Our class traveled to Milan, Parma, Modena and Bologna to visit well-known Italian companies like Parmagiano Reggiano Consortium, Armani, Ferrari, a balsamic vinegar vineyard, a prosciutto di parma farm and Bocconi University in Milan.
The summer after my freshman year, I took a position as an au pair in Madrid, Spain, and got to travel throughout Europe each weekend by myself. I began to really take notice of European fashion and the more subtle ways locals dressed.
My junior year of college, I headed back to Italy, this time as an exchange student at Bocconi University for my spring semester in 2019. In the courtyard of my apartment building, a few men had opened up a motorcycle repair shop and bar. One night, I was at the bar and one of the men showed me how they were repairing the motorcycle seats with Italian leather and using the scraps to create gorgeous leather jackets. A few days later, I was in an atelier in the Brea district helping them pick out leather—a “pinch-me” experience—and it got my wheels spinning! The manufacturer gave me a brochure of leather samples and that’s literally all it took for me to dream about leather handbags. I had no experience in manufacturing, didn’t know much about leather, and had absolutely no clue how to make a handbag, but something was pushing me to keep going.
Although I had access to this gorgeous Italian leather, I really needed a manufacturer to help me build the bags that were dancing around in my head, but it was proving hard to find someone to help me with each step of the design and production process. I was about to give up when a Milanese handbag manufacturer I had reached out months prior finally called me back. Without hesitation, I took the Milan metro to the last stop and met his driver, who took me to my now manufacturer’s home in northern Italy.
He came to greet me with one Chihuahua in each hand and fabulous fur slippers on his feet, the smell of brand-new Italian leather permeating the air. I immediately knew I was in the right place! I’m not sure what came over me, but on the spot in his home in Italy, I told him I would send him my designs and wire him the money for the first prototype. By the way, I had never designed something in my life—I couldn’t even draw! I took photos of his leather options, told him I would send designs, and went back to my flat in Milan.
A week later, I flew home to Boulder for the summer and started ordering cheap shoulder bags online, taking them apart to see how they were constructed. I mailed a rough sketch of my ideal shoulder bag design along with a cut-up Amazon bag from Boulder to my manufacturer in Milan. After a few rounds of prototyping, I placed my first official order of handbags and flew to Milan in January with my dad and a few empty suitcases to pack up my order. We took photos of the bags around Italy and brought them home to Boulder where I officially started Vogelle.
What have you learned about being true to your designs and forging your own way?
I started my brand with one design in three colors because I wanted to start small and see if this business would even work. I was also bootstrapping Vogelle on my own, and still am today.
I’ve learned the hard way that you really can’t please every customer, especially in these early stages where I am operating with limited inventory and limited funding. I have to follow my gut, stay true to the core of my brand and not listen to outside noise too much.
Where do you find inspiration?
I pull a ton of inspiration from social media and influencers. I love following different content creators and seeing how they style things or what cool new brands they’re wearing. I also gather inspiration from old fashion editorials and movies. I love seeing what women were wearing in Italy in the 1950s and New York in the ’90s. Vogue Runway app is constantly open on my iPad as well.
How has being a Colorado native helped you stand out in the design world?
It’s unusual for a designer to not be from L.A. or New York City, so being a young female designer and business owner from Colorado has helped to differentiate me with boutiques and publications in Colorado. They’re excited to see a young local designer growing a business within the community. I think people are always shocked when they visit my trunk shows or pop-ups to learn that I’m the designer and not just there representing the brand as a salesperson.
You have three keystone handbag designs. Do you see yourself expanding your line?
I definitely see myself expanding my line, looking into other leather goods and even a men’s collection. I scaled back production in 2022 due to supply chain issues and am ramping up my core collections again now.
What advice do you have for others looking to launch their own brand?
Always look inward and ask yourself if you can rely on your drive and work ethic day in and day out. When you start your own business, no one is going to be there to hold you accountable or tell you to keep grinding every day when it feels like no progress is being made. You have to be your own 24/7 cheerleader. Starting a business is honestly really isolating so try to find a good network of other like-minded entrepreneurs who know what you’re going through.
Are there other creative outlets you’re invested in, any new partnerships or ambassadorships you’re working on?
I love brand building and marketing. I work as a freelance marketing manager for a few other Colorado-based female business owners. I also have my own YouTube channel. As for new partnerships, you’ll have to stay tuned!