Khoi Le--not just a New York city transplant but a transplant to the United States. He was born in Ho Chi Mihn, Vietnam and moved to Los Gatos, California with his mom and step father when he was 6 years old. It is no surprise Khoi would grow up to be a craftsman of leather goods seeing that the front of his house in Vietnam sheltered a shop of table cloth embroiderer's whom always fascinated him.In high school Khoi was constantly drawing stacks and stacks of purses--just purses. For two years his collection of purse illustrations grew with no consideration of a product beyond paper until finally his mother challenged him to do something with his artistic abilities. Motherly encouragement alongside his obsession with the 2003 Marc Jacobs/Takashi Murakami collaboration of multi-colored monogram Louis Vuitton bags inspired Khoi to think beyond his pen and paper into handbag production.At 14 Khoi mapped out his life agenda. "My life path would be very similar to Marc Jacobs," Khoi told us, "I wanted to go to Parson's because that is where Marc went and eventually I would be the Creative Director for Louis Vuitton because, well, that's what Marc was." Khoi described his admiration for the fashion icon, "I really identified with him because he was the star designer at the time and in terms of craftsmanship he reigned supreme."So upon high school graduation in 2007 Khoi enrolled in Parson's, moved to New York and during school, at age 18, landed an internship with Marc Jacobs. "I thought I had made it," Khoi said, "Life was set and done and all I had to do was continue on Marc's path." What Khoi quickly learned during what he described as "the most eye opening experience in his life thus far," was that following in somebody else's footsteps wasn't the right path for him."There was a moment...I was moving boxes of leather swatches up a couple flights of stairs and by the fifth one they wanted all the boxes moved again," Khoi said. He explained further, "It wasnt the menial labor that bothered me...I questioned whether I was helping serve a purpose or just provide space and it really put a notch in my plan." While Khoi knew fashion, working next to interns in their 20's found him unprepared discipline wise. In this moment Khoi became interested in exploring his own vision and production of bags.Fortunately the process of self producing a product was not foreign to Khoi due to his internship with Bliss Lau, a smaller label, New York based jewelry designer who, at the time, was making handbags (see previous post on Bliss Lau here). This internship preceded his Marc Jacobs internship. In a less corporate environment Khoi worked with Bliss one on one. "She taught me so much in terms of how to treat clients and how to source goods...most importantly she molded me into a more productive person because of her insanely efficient work ethic."Bliss has to be efficient because with a smaller label you have to be on top of every facet of the business whereas a larger label like Marc Jacobs has jobs dedicated to purely filling out expense reports. The experience of both internships molded Khoi into who he is today. "Marc Jacobs yielded a more professional environment whereas with Bliss it was more personal." Khoi concluded, "I learned two different ways of approaching the same business...at the end of the day both produce a finished product no matter the size or scale of the team."In 2010 not long after his internship with Marc Khoi moved back to California to re group. "I needed a break...I had just figured out I didn't want this thing I had wanted my whole life and New York is not the place for people that are not sure," he explained. "Everyone is going at a very fast pace." After hand making bags next to his bunk bed for the past 2 years Khoi is finally ready to re-settle in New York, "I can't live anywhere else." He has created a network of cheerleaders here who push him to excel. In particular, Sophie and Courtney, founders of Landed New York. After all, just months ago it took him 14 hours to make one backpack and recently he made the same quality bag in 3 hours.At only 22, with a lot of experience, Khoi has committed himself to self creation. He personally hand makes everything in his collection from lambskin backpacks to weekend bags and computer cases. Everything is very intentional--nothing exists that does not have a purpose which has created a utilitarian aesthetic. His talent allows him to make virtually anything, for example a barista apron he created for Cafe Integral of American Two Shot, a SoHo boutique that serves coffee, clothes, and accessories, including Khoi's work. This is exactly what Khoi loves creating-- "I want to create things that people live with everyday and that serve a useful purpose in their lives."Right now Khoi is open to experimenting with making different products, especially home goods (going back to the table cloth makers in Vietnam), but as he narrows his niche he will have to start producing on a larger scale and distribute craftsmanship responsibilities out of his blistered hands unto others. As he grows he would like to continue manufacturing handmade products in the U.S. "Not every stitch is always in the perfect centimeter...it is great work but there is a more soulful, human quality."So maybe his dream job of creative director for Louis Vuitton has been replaced by a better one--that of creative director for Khoi Le. As an eloquent, semi-intimidated and extremely humble individual he still surprises himself with his own immense talent. Besides baking cookies for his 10 year old brother he does little else a part from dedicating himself to his craft. He appeals to our generation of creatives by providing something simple yet necessary and if you tell him how amazing it is he has accomplished so much at such a young age his response will surely be, "Well, you should tell my mom that."
Make sure to check out Khoi's website and shop his bags online here.