An Evening at Audrey's: Deborah Sawaf of Thalé Blanc Talks the Creation of the Audrey Hepburn Inspired Handbag

January 4,2021

“Modern, classic, or a little bit on the edge” is how Deborah Sawaf, Creator of Thalé Blanc, a luxury handbag, jewelry, and fashion brand, describes her consumers, but those words also describe Sawaf herself. She is a modern woman with a deep appreciation for all that is classic beauty, on the edge of what is new and exciting in fashion. Her eclectic background brings so much to her brand. Her brand embodies elements from places in which she has lived; Pieces reflect the luxe colors of India, the embroidery and elegance of the Middle East, the fine craftsmanship of Italy, and the stylish edge of Los Angeles. This unique blend makes Thalé Blanc stand out.

Thalé Blanc was founded in 2010 by Deborah Sawaf whose influence ranges from her work with Valentino, John Galliano, Gianfranco Ferré, and Roberto Cavalli as well as her love for couture and study of gemology. Sawaf always had a love for fashion, particularly design, however her passion was amplified by her watching the factory creation of a Versace Couture line. Since then, Sawaf emphasizes quality as the most important element of Thalé Blanc’s culture to deliver superior value. Sawaf states that, “We put quality over everything else. I want to give you more than your value for money, that has always been part of the brand, it’s our culture. We don’t put anything on the floor unless we have tested for two to three months. I take a lot of pride in my quality. We have only had a handful of returns in the past ten years.” Items are also not mass produced so they are very exclusive, of extremely high quality, and sustainable. We spoke with her about the inspiration behind the Audrey bag, her top selling item, and the connection she feels with Hepburn’s grace, and giving nature – a nature one can see in Sawaf as well.

Photo sourced from Thalé Blanc by Deborah Sawaf on Instagram

Audrey Hepburn Muse

Audrey Hepburn’s style, grace, elegance, and kindness has served as the glittering well of inspiration from which Sawaf has drawn throughout her life and career. Audrey Hepburn was more than just a fashion icon. Her effusive energy flowed through everything she did from her movies to her charity work. She changed the world through the silver screen. When asked why Audrey Hepburn struck Sawaf as such an iconic figure, she stated, “Besides being an incredible actress, what I loved and what resonated with us as a brand was the way Audrey Hepburn took everything she was as a celebrity even into her older years and dedicated it toward UNICEF. She used her celebrity positively especially in the philanthropy that she was involved with. I think that’s what’s special about her. She didn’t do it as a touch and go, she completely dedicated her life to UNICEF and to Africa and to children.”

Photo sourced from Thalé Blanc by Deborah Sawaf on Instagram

The Creation of the “Audrey” Handbag

Imagine that as far back as you can recall, there is a person whom you have admired and even emulated but never met. Then envision being blessed with the opportunity to not only visit a place where that person lived but to have the chance to stay as a guest in a place they called home. You would be surrounded by the furnishings, artwork, and architecture they enjoyed. Imagine going to bed and waking in an environment infused with their spirit. That is the reality that Deborah Sawaf experienced when she stayed in the home of a friend’s mother, and that friend just happened to be the son of the classic, the iconic, the legendary Audrey Hepburn.

Hepburn had a home in idyllic Forte dei Marmi, with its clear blue ocean stretching out like a welcoming hand to its visitors. Not by coincidence, Sawaf was drawn to the shores of Forte dei Marmi as Hepburn’s current fell in line with hers. Sawaf saw Hepburn’s sandy footprints on the beach and walked beside them, continuing Hepburn’s path down the shore line. When Sean Ferrer, Audrey’s son, graciously offered Sawaf, his long time friend, the opportunity to stay in his mother’s home, she combined her design prowess with Hepburn’s aura. Sawaf infused the essence of the home into her handbag design by emphasizing the scallop detail that was present in the architecture. She presented the sketches to Ferrer, and he said, “I love it. You can call it the Audrey Bag.” In this way, the Thalé Blanc brand was born. 

Photo sourced from VERY New York: Audrey Evening Clutch Sketch by Deborah Sawaf 

The Growth of the “Audrey” Line

Since the creation of the first “Audrey” handbag sketch, Thalé Blanc has created several beautiful iterations that speak to Hepburn’s many roles and looks both on and off the screen. We gathered some of Hepburn’s most iconic looks and asked Sawaf to imagine how she would add to Audrey’s image with her designs.

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Just as Audrey Hepburn integrated philanthropy into her lifestyle through UNICEF, Sawaf shares those same values. Sawaf says that philanthropic practices were instilled in her at a young age from her father while she grew up in India. Sawaf worked with UNICEF early on and volunteered at one of the orphanages for Mother Teresa. She then took this passion and passed it onto her children both intentionally and by example. She encouraged them to gain gratification through giving and have compassion for others. As a result, she and her children created The Flutter of Hope, which started from her children sacrificing their holiday and birthday presents for those who were underprivileged. They then utilized the butterfly on handbag designs as a motif for hope and new beginnings with 20% of proceeds going directly to The Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles in support of pediatric cancer research.

Photo sourced from, Flutter of Hope products 

The Happy Project was inspired as Sawaf’s children grew older and the family collectively desired to give to education. Sawaf and her family are huge advocates for education and hold the belief that education is the greatest gift. The goal of The Happy Project is to remind others that happiness can be gained through appreciating and giving to others rather than through receiving material things. It is meant to remind others that we can spread happiness through the kindness of giving. A portion of any purchase from The Happy Collection goes to providing educational scholarships for children in need in the Los Angeles and DC areas. Sawaf states that, “Happiness is a positive message, and at this time we think it’s about appreciating someone as opposed to something, and that’s what the happy message says – ‘I have a reason to be happy, and the reason is you.'” All the proceeds from The Happy Project and anything that has the Happy message on it goes to education for underprivileged kids.

Thalé Blanc Statements and the Future of the Brand

Thalé Blanc has recently moved into ready-to-wear with their 2020 NYFW debut of Thalé Blanc Statements, a luxury sportswear collection. The collection was meant to showcase the idea that all women can make a statement. Sawaf states that she “wanted to come up with something so that every piece in the collection is a must-have. We have five pieces that I feel are so important.” Like her handbags, the pieces are beautifully crafted, but are a bit more edgy while also not straying too far from her classic couture roots. The debut collection was entirely virtual which is something Sawaf notes as a major benefit and medium that is here to stay; She underlines the fact that “virtual gives you the opportunity to reach a much bigger audience and to express yourself. You can do a one-on-one interview when you’re doing a fashion show and you meet a few editors and you talk to them but this really has tentacles. You can reach every country virtually.”

As for the future of Thalé Blanc, Sawaf is a huge advocate for technological advancement especially in terms of creating products that are more sustainable. Sawaf believes that in 2021, “designers will no longer need to spend a fortune on creating sample collections because you won’t even have to touch scissors to fabric to be able to create your collection. That is how quickly technology is moving.” It is important to the brand to foster a “slow fashion” consumer mindset to put more emphasis on the quality of luxury. Sawaf has recently partnered with the COVET fashion app, which allows players to style Thalé Blanc Statement collection pieces which are then judged by a virtual panel. In the new year, Sawaf is hoping to continue to pursue technological opportunities to add even more value for fans of the brand!

Photo sourced from Thalé Blanc by Deborah Sawaf on Instagram

More important than the creation of a gorgeous handbag that anyone would want in their wardrobe is the story of like souls from different generations connecting through a touchstone, in this case, Hepburn’s son, and carrying a spirit of charity, generosity, and humanity into the future.

To stay connected to Thalé Blanc and Deborah Sawaf:

Thalé Blanc’s website

Thalé Blanc Instagram 

Deborah Sawaf Instagram