Linz Shelton is one funky bag lady.
The designer of the CUFFZ handbag line spoke to students about her experiences in the fashion and business world at a Davenport Master’s Tea Tuesday organized by Lucy Winn ’06.
“I met Linz this summer in Los Angeles and was impressed by how charismatic and smart she was,” Winn said. “Her bags attract a lot of double takes — even my professors have asked me ‘Is that a handcuff?'”
Shelton’s purse line is infamous for its shocking use of police-grade handcuffs as handles, but she claims the design happened by accident.
“It was a running joke with friends because I’d always leave my bags in bars,” Shelton said.
After fastening a pair of handcuffs to her purse as a gag, she was surprised when girls began approaching her at parties and asking her where she got the unique accessory.
Shelton soon began making more of the handbags in her Kensington apartment and selling them to the girls she met in London clubs. She eventually moved her small business out of London and back to the West Coast in order to get it off the ground.
“Being in L.A. is great,” said Shelton, whose creations have been sported by celebrities such as Mischa Barton, Courtney Love and Tori Spelling. “It’s like a pilgrimage I had to make. It’s my Mecca.”
It wasn’t long before boutique owner Lisa Kline picked up the CUFFZ line. The first day Kline displayed Shelton’s products in her shop, Paris Hilton purchased ten bags — one in every available color.
“The day Star Magazine reported in their Christmas issue that Paris bought our bags, our server crashed with all the online orders we got,” said Shelton, who was unexpectedly forced to boost production. “We managed to clean out every U.S. distributor of handcuffs after the Paris Hilton thing.”
Shelton, who is currently visiting the east coast for New York Fashion Week, said her influences are a fun mix of things that interest her.
“It’s a response to current trends as well as all the eras I feel like I missed out on,” Shelton said, citing late seventies punk and Studio 54 as particular inspirations.
“I was a total punk in high school, like skater punk chick, the kind of kid who had to be told to take the safety pin out of her nose,” Shelton said.
Erin Ruck ’06, who attended high school with Shelton, said the designer’s creative talents were present at a young age.
“She always had a flair for her own style,” Ruck said. “I could have seen her going into fashion, but I think she’s grown a whole lot through the experience.”
As a business novice who learned on the job, Shelton had her share of advice for the budding entrepreneurs in attendance.
“It sounds kind of New Age, but when you put yourself and your energy and your creations out there, it comes back,” said Shelton. “When you face a challenge, change your approach, sneak in the back door, [then] things will happen. It all takes effort and careful research and not being afraid to screw up, and that’s true for design as well.”
The tea drew a number of students with varying levels of experience and interest in the fashion world.
Rachita Vora ’06 expressed her admiration for Shelton’s story and her work.
“It reinforces the idea that stuff like this does happen, even in the fashion industry,” said Vora, who was drawn to the event as a student in Aaron Wong’s seminar “Introduction to Fashion Theory and Methodology.”
Vora also found the designer very approachable in spite of her tremendous success.
“She seems really down to earth,” Vora said of Shelton, who made jokes and quoted “Sex and the City” and “Fight Club” throughout her discussion. “I think she’s great.”