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The cat's out of the bag: Maryland-raised purse designer is a rising fashion star

Danielle DiFerdinando, owner and designer of Danielle Nicole handbags
Danielle DiFerdinando, owner and designer of Danielle Nicole handbags - handout photo
It was an elevator ride that lifted Danielle DiFerdinando to fashion success. 

One day a cosmetics buyer for luxury retailer Bergdorf Goodman asked the Maryland native where she bought her purse as they both were sharing an elevator in New York City. DiFerdinando said she made it herself. Impressed, the buyer asked if she could design a cosmetic bag for the store. Despite the fact that DiFerdinando had never made a cosmetic bag before, she jumped at the chance. 

“After I was stopped, I bought five different cosmetic bags that I liked so I could tear them apart to see how they were constructed,” DiFerdinando says. “I realized I needed to create something very unique in order to compete in the market.”

That’s when she came up with her line of cosmetic bags that also functioned as purses. “They were made out of high-end leather and served a dual purpose,” DiFerdinando says. 

Today, DiFerdinando’s purses are sold at Nordstrom, Macy’s, Piperlime and Cusp and around the world, including Japan, Canada, London, Hong Kong and Israel. Danielle Nicole handbags have gotten the endorsement of celebrities and style icons like Rachel Zoe. Oprah Winfrey purchased 5,500 Danielle Nicole handbags for her guests last fall. 

DiFerdinando, who hails from Ellicott City and is the daughter of Boardwalk Fresh Burger & Fries founder, is expanding her business to include jewelry. Though she lives in New York, she visits Baltimore once a month and is holding a trunk show in Towson May 9 to promote her new Diane line — named after her friend and entertainment reporter “Downtown” Diane Macklin.  DiFerdinando talked with BmoreMedia about what inspires her, what advice she has for budding entrepreneurs and what’s next for Danielle Nicole handbags.

BmoreMedia (BM): When the recession hit, you decided to switch from leather to alternative materials to make your bags more affordable. Tell me about that.

DiFerdinando (DD): My bags originally retailed between $600 and $1,000, which, outside of New York, is pretty pricey. So in order to make my handbags more accessible I started using non-leather materials. That way I was still able to bring the same unique designs, bold colors, and high-quality bags to my customers, but at an affordable price. Now all of my bags are less than $100. 

BM: How do you find the materials you use?

DD: My materials come from all over the world. I work with my vendors who help figure out what materials to use for each design while still making it affordable. I have lines coming out using straw, canvas and faux crocodile.

BM: What’s next for Danielle Nicole handbags?

DD: We’re launching a new cuff and bracelet line for the holiday season. Customers have always commented on how much they love the hardware on the bags, so we’re creating unique bracelets and cuffs with the hardware used in our designs. And then we have our spring, summer, and fall lines for 2013.

BM: What do you like about Baltimore?

DD: I love the diversity, the people, just the overall energy. And I love how so many different communities come together. It’s the heart of Maryland and will always be a part of me.

BM: What do you like to do when you’re here?

DD: I like to spend a lot of time with my family. But I also like to stop by Nordstrom in Towson. I talk to the salespeople to see what feedback they’re getting and Arundel Mills because I’m a bargain shopper. I love going to vintage shops in Ellicott City to get inspiration for future designs. And I make sure to go to Boardwalk Fries & Burgers because I can’t get that in New York. 

BM: What’s your advice for people hoping to start a business of their own?

DD: I think the biggest piece of advice is to have a clear vision and to be persistent. It’s also important to learn from your mistakes. You’re going to make them, and admitting it, learning from it, and moving on is key.

Katharine Schildt Scrivener is a freelance writer in Federal Hill. She authors the blog From A to Pink.

Photographs courtesy of Danielle Nicole.
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