Nook and WillowWhat is it about this city and bags? Everywhere you go, they’re clutched, swung, shouldered, draped and danced around. And the girls love them even more.

So it was probably only a matter of time before Liverpool’s very own bags were born. And we’re not talking about those knock-off Guccis down at the Heritage Market. We’re talking bespoke, unique, exuberant pieces. The genuine article.

Enter Nina (Nook) Halliwell and Clare (Willow) Wilson – aka Nook and Willow – custodians of the clutch, transformers of the tote, saviours of the, er, satchel… you get the idea.

For the past half a decade, Nook and Willow have machined their way into our hearts with their art-deco leather purses, and their snakeskin Manhattan envelopes. And, girls, with your malachite anaconda clutch, you’re really spoiling us…

How did you get started?

Clare: We decided that we would set up a business together and design/make shoes and handbags. Nina trained in London as a footwear designer and I studied textiles but loved handbags. We started off with the bags first as the shoe equipment was too expensive! So with no knowledge of bag making, a job lot of leather from eBay, two industrial sewing machines and a cat – all squeezed into Nina’s tiny bedroom – we started! We decided we’d aim at the high-end market, so booked a launch with zero budget in the Newz Bar. We just made it up as we went along, really. But I think it helped as we developed our own style through trial and error. Now we have our own way of making the bags and a very strong signature style which, I’m sure, wouldn’t have happened had we been trained in university. It made us think outside the box.

How long does it take to design/create a new piece?

C: When developing, say, a new clutch we usually stick to the same shapes that we know will work. It’s on the surface where we’ll experiment with shapes, textures, hardware and fasteners. I have a strong textile background which, I think, comes through in the designs, and Nina will bring a completely different spin as she has her shoe background to draw influences from. This process can take a few weeks but once we’ve nailed the design it takes up to a couple of days to make each piece.

Is there a Liverpool look – and does it show in your work?

C: You can’t beat support from your own backyard so I suppose we are influenced by things we see around us. But we want to encourage individuality – and I’m beginning to see a lot more of that spirit when I walk around the city. It can be a hard concept for people to grasp as most will stick to what they know… but things are getting better.

Nook and Willow handbag

How did ASOS get involved?

C: We have Colleen Rooney to thank for that as she flashed one of our clutches she’d bought from Cricket for Ladies Day in 2007. The photos ended up everywhere – literally all over the world! So we emailed ASOS who had just started to sell high-end brands and told them about Colleen. Within ten minutes they rang us and asked to view the collection. We went to their head office in London and they placed an order… they loved them!

What’s your verdict on man bags?

C: I love them. When we first started we made a few and so many men who said at that time they’d never be seen dead have now started using them. Sometimes pockets aren’t enough and with so many cool labels jumping on the man-bag bandwagon they’ve become a lot more acceptable.

What are you enjoying in Liverpool right now?

Clare: Apart from our new studio in Seel Street which is the most inspiring place ever, I love Bold Street – it’s so eclectic and has a fab new noodle bar. The new bar on Slater Street, Santa Chupitos is very cool. We need more places like that. As for people, I love all our creative friends who are working on amazing projects as we speak, and of course Kirsty’s shop (Kirsty Doyle, 20 Mansteys Lane, Liverpool One). It’s nice to see an independent in Liverpool One. I wish we had a lot more. Plus, she stocks our collection!

Nina: Like Clare I absolutely adore our new studio, based in Seel Street Studios. It’s full of very creative and crazy people. We have two fabulous interns with us at the moment, Jenny who is a Uclan Student and PR genius, and Natalie who’s a university graduate with the most amazing ideas for leather jewellery. I’m also loving the Kazimier for bands and for people watching, and I think what’s been done to the old Drome store in Cavern Walks is amazing – it’s now Boudoir Boutique and the interior is stunning.

You’ve been seen on the arms of serious A listers. But who would you really love to see with a N&W bag?

C: I would love someone world-famous like Beyonce to have one! That would take us to a whole new level.

What’s the oddest thing we’d find if we rooted through your handbags?

C: As I have two boys probably some random lego pieces.
N: A Didier Drogba Match Attax card (limited edition!) and a packet of Bach Rescue Remedy Chewing gum.