Make-up bags made of Astroturf? Fake-fur purses with plush, aqua linings? Laugh if you must, but 24-year-old designer Monique Moizel is turning such whimsy into a teen-fashion staple with her 2-year-old line of handbags, Topsy Turvy. The name might not mean much to adults, but trend-conscious teens can't seem to get enough of Moizel's wares, which can be found in retailers from L.A. to Tokyo. Sales climbed to $560,000 last year, compared with about $200,000 in 1998.
Not bad for a fashion-school dropout. After she bailed out of the prestigious Otis College of Art & Design, Moizel started crafting handbags from unusual fabrics in her Hollywood Hills bedroom, selling them to friends. She caught a break when her fiance's father loaned her $5,000 to start a real business. Cash in hand, Moizel pitched scores of L.A. retailers, landing $3,500 worth of orders that first day. It was a hint of things to come, as Moizel found herself in a constant scramble to keep up. "It was like a circus," she says. She now occupies an office with seven employees in L.A.'s fashion district and has begun contracting out big orders. Her bags retail for $32 to $58 in boutiques, specialty stores, and even at Nordstrom Inc. "Monique is really creative in putting different fabrics together," says Tricia Smith, a buyer for Nordstrom's California region.
Moizel keeps things fresh by turning out new styles every three weeks, compared with six times a year for most handbag makers. It seems to be working: In January, a Topsy Turvy handbag appeared on the arm of Tori Spelling in an episode of Beverly Hills 90210. Meanwhile, a licensing deal with an apparel manufacturer will expand the Topsy Turvy brand to include a line of sportswear. In all, Moizel expects her line to gross $1 million this year. And there's nothing topsy turvy about that.