What happens when a New York City native with a career comprised of film, fashion and magazines finds herself living in the hushed vineyards of Napa Valley? She knits. At least, that’s the way it has worked for handbag designer Heidi Baron Godoff.
Godoff moved with her husband and twins to St. Helena more than four years ago when her husband accepted a job in the wine industry. Without the bustle of the city outside her door, she said she found herself treasure hunting at Lolo’s Consignment Shop and getting lost in the local yarn store. Although she said she had never knit before, she was drawn to the colors of the yarn.
“I started knitting my first winter here when it was raining and gray,” Baron Godoff said. Not long after, she took a bag felting class. Felting is the process of “melting and decomposing” yarn, she explained.
Once the form of the knit is created, the piece is washed, which changes the feeling of the yarn and shrinks the shape. From there it is beaten and possibly washed again before it is stretched back into the silhouette of a purse during a process called blocking.
Baron Godoff explained that knitting and felting are some of the oldest ways of making fabric. She calls the process of creating something with her hands “slow and meditative.” “It makes me feel more connected to the earth,” she said.
In the beginning, the designer was just making purses for herself. Eventually, she said friends began to request them and then she started selling them. “One of my first fans was Alexis,” she said of Alexis Swanson Traina, with whom she had worked on Swanson Vineyards’ rebranding not long after she arrived in the valley. “She is classic — the perfect luxury, bohemian-chic goddess,” Baron Godoff described.
The descriptor seems to illustrate her target client well. She noted that she doesn’t want the bags to be too matronly or too ladylike.
“I don’t want it to look like your grandmother made it,” she said. “I like when they are falling apart, deconstructed. Ideally, I prefer them inside out with the thread out.”
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The colors in the valley as well as what is happening on the fashion runways is where Baron Godoff said she finds inspiration for the color combinations used in her striped bags. The shapes and monikers, such as “Leah,” “Roe” and “Donna,” however, embody the friends after whom they were named. “That was me,” she said, “being here and missing everybody.”
The line, which includes six shapes that range from a clutch to a large tote, is called “The BFF Bag” and is defined in sales materials as “Super Lux Boho Hand-Knit. Felted + Finished.” Each is a color block of well-recognized stripe combinations like the classic “Hudson Bay” and “French Navy” patterns. Baron Godoff knows the historical significance of each stripe the way only a one-time fashion student and former magazine editor would.
As the handbags have begun to take off, Baron Godoff worked with a sales representative in New York who will show the line to wholesale buyers. Although the bags will still be hand made in the Napa Valley, some elements, such as patterns and colors will become more standardized. She has also gone to work on concepts for scarves and pillows.
More interested in creating the initial designs, color combinations and stripe patterns, than re-knitting them over and over, Baron Godoff has enlisted the talents of the woman who initially taught her how to felt to help her keep up with orders.
“I love creating the business of them — the website, the marketing. It’s interesting to create one’s own brand,” the designer said.
A creative businesswoman at heart, Baron Goddoff said she has spent her career setting trends and injecting brands with her personal style and panache. After studying design and merchandising at the Fashion Institute of Technology and English literature at Hunter College in New York, she launched her career in film production before seguing into fashion production. She lived in Paris for a few years before returning to New York and working as a buyer for Barney’s New York. Her love of fashion took her to Mirabella magazine where she was a senior fashion editor. Finally, before moving to the Napa Valley, she had a company called Twist Creative Productions which allowed her to use her business skills to launch new products in fashion and fragrance, create branding concepts, plan events and curate gift guides for the New York Times.
When the entrepreneur, wife and mother isn’t working on The BFF Bags, she is busy with her fashion blog and shuttling back and forth to New York City, where the family maintains a loft. Although Baron Godoff has done some brand consulting in the years since she left New York, her real focus remains the bags, which can be seen at her website and purchased at Pearl Wonderful Clothing in St. Helena.