High-end handbags evoke history in Mount photoshoot


We don't know if Edith Wharton was a lover of handbags, but with her appreciation for the principles of proportion, harmony and simplicity, perhaps she would have carried a Dooney & Bourke.

Or, at the very least, wouldn't mind the high-end handbag company using her well-manicured estate as the backdrop for its fall look book.

On Monday, The Mount served as an elegant, classic canvas for Dooney & Bourke's fall collection handbags. Elizabeth Kane, director of advertising and public relations for Dooney & Bourke, along with photographer Mike Altobello, assistant Payal Parikh and designer Marjorie Millyard set up shop in the Berkshires for three days, making a stop as well at the Berkshire Botanical Garden on Tuesday.

"We chose the Berkshires because it has such a rich history, especially this area of the Berkshires," Kane said. "We love to include elements of American history in our photo shoots when we can."

Launched in 1975, the company was founded in Norwalk Conn. Though they have shot their handbags in locations all around the world, they always return to their New England roots when they can, Kane said. Kane and Millyard scouted the Berkshire locations three weeks ago, setting up possible shots for the 25 looks they hoped to capture.

The team, equiped with state-of-the-art camera equipment, a Macbook Pro and four plastic retail bags -- proudly blazed with the signature interlocking "D" and "B" logo -- stuffed with the brand's newest handbags for fall, took over Edith's private library on the second floor of The Mount for more than two hours.

Brown, structured leather wallets stamped with the Dooney & Bourke duck emblem rested fashionably on books taken from the shelves, most Wharton's own works with her handwritten notes peeking out from under a wristlet. Nynke Dorhout, librarian and lecture series coordinator at The Mount, kept a watchful eye over the handling of Wharton's books, artifully arranged on the novelist's desk waiting for their closeup.

"Our products have very classic lines," said Kane. "The brand has a lot of heritage to it. We like to find settings that inhance that heritage."

PHOTO GALLERY | Mike Altobello photographs Dooney and Bourke bags at The Mount

In the morning, Wharton's intricate garden and impressive home anchored pictures featuring a deep red leather Tulip Shopper -- a structured bag with a 9-inch handle and intricate stiching along its base, which retails for $348, according to the company's website -- and the more boxy Chelsea Shopper with a 5-inch handle and adjustable strap, retailing for $388. Though there were no models used -- Kane said they prefer to focus on the bags and the brand's attention to craftsmenship -- each shot was at-times a tense dance of slight adjustments, moving a thin leather wristlet strap just a nudge, or waiting for a moving cloud to pass by and change the natural light.

"The big wild card was not knowing how much the leaves would change," Kane said, as she looked out at the beautiful, crisp fall day. "We have been watching the forecast for the last week with bated breath. We were quite fortunate."

Rebecka McDougall, communications director at The Mount, said they are the fortunate ones to have this opportunity to highlight the estate in such a unique way. But this isn't the first time Wharton's home has been in front of the camera. In 2012, Vogue magazine used the estate for a spread in their prized September issue, with world-famous photographer Annie Leibovitz shooting the spread and Vogue art director Grace Coddington. In the same year, Boston Magazine used The Mount for the backdrop of it's fall weddings issue spread.

"It's really exciting to see the property used in such diverse ways," McDougall said.

On Tuesday, the crew hunted for more fall colors at the Berkshire Botanical in Stockbridge, but seemed to be a little disappointed with the folliage, Brian Cruey, communications managaer at the garden, said. They were able to find some spots of color, though, and took notice of the garden's grand hydrangea hedge.

"It's been really fun to have them here," said Cruey. "And they have cart full of bags that all ladies here are eyeing."

Cruey pointed out having the company pick the Berkshire Botanical Garden as a photo shoot location benefits more than just the garden.

"It's not just great for us, but for the Berkshire," he said. "In general, any time a big national brand comes along it's good for all of us."

For fashionistas hoping to get a inside look at what's to come before the fall look book makes its digital debut sometime between Oct. 10 and Oct. 15 on the brand's homepage (www.dooney.com), Kane said to expect more of the same classic lines, with a few new looks like the nod to the slouchy, traditional mailbag co-founder Peter Dooney found at a fleamarket in Paris. The more casual bag is a softer look and a new shape for the company. Also, expect to see more red and maroons,which are the "it" colors this season, according to Kane.

When asked what Wharton would have thought of leather wallets taking over her library for an afternoon, McDougall smiled and said, "I think she'd be thrilled."

"She created a beautiful environment and to have that appreciated would be something she'd be very proud of," said McDougall. "And she should be, because this is her creation. I think having her home reinvented by photographers and art directors is a lot of fun."


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