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Sunroom Q+A: Tonya Hawkes

Designer Tonya Hawkes’ expressive, sculptural handbags are more than an accessory...they're each works of art.

Starting her career at Donna Karan in New York before moving to Bologna, Italy – where she currently calls resides – Tonya's exceptionally detailed bags pay homage to the spirit of Art Deco, each intricately layering accents of resin and beads, metallic finishes, snakeskin, and geometric patterns...while borrowing inspiration from art, culture, travel. 

Learn more in our Sunroom Q&A with Tonya, all below!

You've had such an amazing career & path that led you to designing your  collection. How did your experience in earlier roles with brands like Donna Karan  and FURLA inform the ways you've thought about creating your own collection? 
My past experiences, foremost working for Donna Karan for nearly a decade, gave  me so much hands-on experience. The American fashion cycle of 4 seasons and  the success of the brand in the 1990’s afforded the designers to  grow due to demanding expectations in both design and business. I sincerely give all the credit to Donna Karan for how she supported me as a young designer and how she  nurtured my raw talent—giving me the space to refine my eye, perfect my craft, and to develop successful design technics that have carried me throughout my entire career.

Can you share more about your design process? Where does an idea for one of  your bags begin?
I have several consistent design references that were conceived throughout my  childhood as an Equestrian growing up in the 1970’s at the base of the Issaquah Alps that I think define the greater part of I am inspired by. However, the final touch comes from the glamorous life I always dreamt of having as a child—where I pull on the fantastical roaring 1920’s and originality of the Bauhaus movement.

I spend a lot of time on my work and it starts with casual, relaxing research like shopping international markets, flea markets, vintage, and book stores. Feeling my way through a list of what makes me stop and want more. 

Your pieces are each so incredibly detailed and ornate—can you share a little  more about the process of their creation?
Imagine going into a garden and collecting the fruits and vegetables that are ripe  and ready to enjoy and when you go to the kitchen you are obliged to prepare a tasty meal with the things you collected. It's as simple as that, but starting from many different ideas and inspirations, creating my "garden" to select from, and only pulling ideas down that feel ripe and ready to enjoy. Then, I apply these ideas into a space (like my handbags). This process is where I labor over making something harmonious, eye-catching, and desirable.

Art Deco motifs feel so present in your pieces...curious what else is on your  mood board right now?
Because of my history in design and how I refined my work in the 1990’s, I have  always had a vein of that era in my work in the day-bag collections I have designed  for many designers throughout my career. I am currently looking for a new way to  apply that era into my box clutches.

Are there any stories behind the designs of the bags we're carrying at Sunroom  (or perhaps some of your favorite details of these)?
Each one of them have an additional meaning inside my well established way of  creating.

1. Pewter Chest has a two-tone effect on the snakeskin that I custom developed for my collection—so you won’t find this anywhere else but here. I created this pewter color together with faux tortoise jewelry-like accessories to accent trending chocolate, bronze and camel clothing. I was very inspired by the 1996 Donna Karan advertising campaign with Demi Moore and Bruce Willis shot by Peter Lindbergh.

2. Tangerine Kendra has a cylindric resin closure and metal coin rivets that are inspired by a famous Austrian-Italian architect named Ettore Sottsass, born in 1917, who attributed to the Bauhaus art-movement in Europe. I am obsessed with pink & orange in combination and see it often in the work of painter Mark Rothko, who inspires so many of my color palettes.

3. Teal Bologna was inspired by the ancient ornate doors of Bologna, a medieval city in Italy where I have lived for over 20 years! I have collected 1000’s of pictures of the doors in Italy over the years and finally found a way to express my love for them with this style. The colors come from a funny story about the years of designing together with my friend and extraordinary footwear designer Edmundo Castillo at Sergio Rossi; every time, he had to have this exact color combination in the collection.

As a former Seattle-ite & New Yorker now living in Bologna, what have been the  biggest shifts in your perspective, process, and lifestyle since moving abroad? 
I lived in New York City for 10 years prior to living in Bologna that I would say helped me keep an open mind to all the many differences in these two lifestyle cultures. The biggest shift was the perception of what a quality life feel like that encompasses  family, friends, food, and work and taking the time to cultivate your relationships and  be happy with all of the above.

What are you working on next? 
I’ve been working on my home collection since 2021. I launched it during the  pandemic when I redirected my creative energy to where I though it would be more  useful than creating more clutches during a time no one was able to go out. I  trademarked the brand Hawkes Nest, inspired by a plaque my parents had made for our home in Issaquah, Washington that sat on the windowsill from when I was a little girl. I began creating original art that I transformed into wallpaper, fabric, and wall art—all made in the USA. More recently, I collaborated with Magnolia Ceramics in Bologna, Italy on a capsule collection of ceramics with iconic clutch studs. I am  currently in production for a collection of linens and cannot wait to show the world after months of preparation.

Rapid Fire!

I start my mornings with... Nespresso x 2 and a piece of toast with chunky peanut butter.

A book I recommend to everyone: The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron.

An unexpected source of inspiration for me is…Horse bits on a bridle.

My favorite escape for a long weekend or staycation getaway: Venice—1.5 hours from my home.

Three things always in my bag are: iPhone, Mac Lipstick, Visa card.

The songs or playlist I'm listening to on repeat: The Doobie Brothers.

My beverage of choice: Water

Where I'm traveling this year…went to Palm Beach for the first time in February, up next is Paris for fashion week, New York, San Antonio, Round Top Antique Show, Austin, Seattle, Bologna, Puglia, Bali and all before June 1st. Summers on the Adriatic and Mediterranean then hit rewind and repeat for Texas, New York and Palm Beach in the fall.


Shop Tonya Hawkes at Sunroom