In the Bag
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.
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.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.