With her colorfully inked arms and customized threads, handbag designer Allison Burns is the quintessentially cool flash-trash L.A. rock chick. Shes one of those women who throws it all together so perfectly -- an effortlessly unique way with makeup, clothes and accessories -- that you want to hate her, but shes just too nice. And to top it off, Burns, a New York--born, L.A.-based makeup artist, has usually designed whatever eye-catching creation she happens to be sporting -- she started sewing her own clothes and bags when she was 11. Nearly every day she gets asked, Where can I get that? Usually, the answer is the same: Nowhere, I made it. One day on a set, as she was toting a half-moon-shaped purse embellished with patches and safety pins that shed designed, Good Day L.A. host Jillian Barberie not only asked the question, she insisted that Burns make her a similar bag.
For two years now Burns has been crafting her distinctive carryalls, each model inspired by rock & roll divas of yore. It began with The Cherie, the purse Barberie coveted, named after Runaways lead singer Cherie Currie. Next was The Stevie, a roomy gypsy-woman bag with a long, thick shoulder strap and hippie-ish pocket design, followed by a chic clutch with a sequined butterfly called The Debbie (Deborah Harry owns two). Even the dudes are represented with The Morrison, a biker-style wallet embellished with band names.
All the early designs of her eponymous line were made from denim -- she searched through thrift stores and friends unwanted-clothing stashes for old jeans to take apart -- but shes since abandoned the fabric. I still like it, but its oversaturated, she says. When the Gap started doing denim bags, I stopped. These days, shes working in leather, which adds an edgy elegance to her purses: Theres The Flying V, a small evening bag in white, black or fuchsia (all with hot-pink lining) modeled after the flamboyant guitar. And theres The Pearl, a modified version of her denim The Janis, with a metallic hoop handle and a more spacious gathered pouch. These are purses for girls with plenty of attitude to spare. She also does an exclusive collection for the Chinatown gallery Shop Chuey, featuring silk-screened works of its showcased artists -- so far shes done totes emblazoned with the art of sultry psycho-pop tart Niagara and photos by Ann Summa from her recent L.A. Punk Revisited show.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Although her bags evoke a certain spirit of the 70s, Burns is a proud out-of-the-closet metalhead who lets the 80s guide her now and again, especially on custom pieces. During a five-month-long stint as the makeup artist for The Osbournes, she made Kelly a Janis, but with a hesher twist: black-and-white stonewash adorned with a skull-and-crossbones patch. Other fans of Burns bags include Aimee Osbourne, Kellys spotlight-shunning sister, and Rob Zombies wife, Sherry Moon. Of course, Burns successful makeup career -- shes done video work with everyone from the Smashing Pumpkins to N.E.R.D. -- puts her in the perfect surroundings to show off her designs to high-profile fashionistas.
Still, non-celebrities -- funky femme fatales who love rock & roll and want to look hot -- are her main customers. Burns not unexpectedly champions the purse, along with makeup, as the ultimate form of self-expression. Your life is in there, she says. Even if its a mess on the inside, you want it to look good on the outside.
Allison Burns is available at Jennifer Kaufman in the Beverly Center, (310) 854-1058; Blest Boutique, 1634 Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 467-0191; Beige, 7274 Beverly Blvd., (323) 549-0064; Shop Chuey, 437 Gin Ling Way, Chinatown, (213) 625-3789; and www.allisonburns.com.