I love taking a peak into the heart of where things are created and hearing the story behind them. Recently I did just that when I paid a visit to the creative space of Roanne Jacobson, designer and director of the accessories brand, Saben.
Roanne is an old friend of mine, however it was the first time that I’ve paid a visit to her studio beneath her lovely home in Ponsonby, Auckland. The space feels like a place where girlfriends hang out, with gorgeous handbags hung around the room on mismatched vintage hooks, fashion magazines and design books sprawled everywhere. The swatches of leather, give a hint of what really goes on in the room as it’s here, alongside her close team, where Roanne designs her handbag collections.
It was while living in New York, with no money and trying to break it into the art world that led to the creation of Saben. “I was being swept away by the fashion world, while living there and I trawled thrift shops trying to find something that I’d love, but would always end back in Soho with these phenomenal designers, and wanting their product. So I decided surely I could make something.
My first attempt was ridiculous.” Roanne laughed, “It took me weeks and when I showed my friend she took one look at it and said, “yeah right, why don’t you borrow something of mine”. “
Roanne has always loved fashion and would feed her inspiration by spending hours in the Soho store of Parisian brand, Jamin Puech, overwhelmed by how over the top they were. She’d then walk a couple of doors up to Maison Martin Margiela, with minimalist designs and exquisite leathers all superbly manufactured. “They were extremes from each other, and I’d sit in a café nearby and revel in this inspiration and try to find myself somewhere in between. I loved the contrast of the two, but I didn’t fit into either of them. I was trying to work out my language and what it was that appealed to me in the two.” She told me.
Near the end of Roanne’s year in New York, she made a mental decision that she would pursue making accessories on her return to New Zealand. Because she didn’t have any formal training in fashion, she felt that accessories seemed like the easier of the two to take on. “In my naive outlook it seemed simple at the time, but it didn’t take me long to realise that accessories are this endless exercise which I’m always learning.” She said. “It’s kept me totally interested all of these years later because there is so much to it. It wasn’t the reason that I went into it; I thought it was my entry but it actually encompasses everything I need in fashion. For me they’re works of art.”
In the backroom of Roanne’s studio is the workroom. I really responded to how raw it is, like a true craftsman workshop. There are jars of every stud you could imagine, a massive wood chopping block and an impressive vintage stud press. Roanne told me that they were some of the things that she had to keep from her previous premises, which was a space that she shared in an old factory for years prior to moving to Ponsonby. The stud press was something put together by Trevor, the old factory owner, to suit how he worked, making it a completely unique piece of equipment.
Turning Saben into a successful accessories brand took some time. She spent two years on her return from New York working in the fashion industry, designing bags in her spare time, and finally hiring an outworker to sew them so that she could sell them at markets on the weekends. After her outworker moved on, a couple of years later, Roanne decided to get serious and looked for someone that was already set up in a factory. “That’s when I met Trevor. He started off making my samples, then 90% of the product and finally 100%; and it was then that I moved into his premises and got serious.“ Saben has gone on to be one of New Zealand’s most successful accessories brand.
I love the juxtaposition of glamour and craftsmanship in Roanne’s studio. In one room, an elegant rainbow of Tillys hanging on the wall, the other a workspace full of the tools of the trade.
“I’m an artist at heart, it’s always been the tactile nature of a product – function has always come into; it has to be functional, it’s not going on a wall. I always found it an exciting challenge to make something functional and also beautiful.”
So what’s next for Saben? “We recently started selling in Japan,’ she told me, ‘so I’ll be concentrating on that along with expanding further into Asia and Australia.”
Thanks so much for inviting me into your creative workspace Roanne!
Photography by G Chesneau