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LA's Welcome Companions Makes Bags Shaped Like Toast, Mice

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It's time to get to know some of the emerging designers nominated for Racked Young Guns, our annual search for the country's most promising new fashion talent.

Photo via Jeana Sohn

Before Laurel Consuelo Broughton of accessories line Welcome Companions ever designed a bag, she was all about books and buildings. "Fashion was always a latent interest of mine since I was a teenager. It wasn't something I had considered participating in," says Laurel, who studied comparative literature and later enrolled at Southern California Institute of Architecture for grad school.

Post-grad, Laurel worked at the architecture firm Johnston and Marklee, where she built large-scale projects like homes and shops. "While I was working there, I got this hankering for wanting to make smaller-scale things," says the L.A.-based designer. "There was something attractive about being able to produce something that had equal power and could enter someone's life, but wouldn't be a five-year process to make."

So in 2009, Laurel took a teaching job a USC's School of Architecture—where she still teaches in the architecture program today—and experimented on a line of bags, clutches, and wallets on the side. Slowly, but surely Welcome Companions came to fruition.

Today, each piece in her cheeky-cute line is worthy of a double-take. "One of the things I'm interested in is the idea about shape and how we interpret or recognize certain shapes and assign meanings or functions to them," she says. "While they're traditional accessories, all of the pieces are not shaped like any known traditional accessories."

The first collection, Mr. Knife, Miss Fork—inspired by Rene Crevel's 1927 surrealist novel, Babylon—plays with this very idea that the thing you see is not the thing that it is. Upon first glance, a handbag fools you into thinking it's a hat and a coin purse toys with your emotions disguising itself as a glove. "There's a surrealist element to it," she says of the movement's familiar icons—a bowler hat and glove—that she uses.

Her other lines are equally as mind-blowing. The Jungle collection draws on Henri Rousseau's jungle paintings, specifically one that showcases lush greenery alongside a woman on a velvet sofa. "I love the idea that in Rousseau's jungle, the sofa could be as native to it as any of the plants or flowers," she says. "The collection came out of that sense—if a sofa could be native to the jungle, then any of the trees or leaves could also be a handbag."

Then there's the Part-time Picnic collection, in which color-happy toast, strawberries, and lips double as clutches, bags, and wallets. "There's an interplay between the lips and food objects. The lips function as the people on the picnic, and the food is the food at the picnic," Laurel says.

For those looking for tamer shades, there's the Navy Yard line, all in one dark hue. The collection, which evokes a rivalry between two "gangs"—the Squares and the Animals—focuses on how animal shapes are similar to handbag silhouettes people already carry around. The turtle is akin to the barrel bag, the rabbit to a traditional shoulder bag, and the mouse takes on a similar shape to a cross-body.

Come fall, be on the lookout for the Classics collection. "We conceptually thought of it as acid washing them. The color of the hole is the color of the interior lining, so there's this idea that the color burns through the exterior of the bag." And the line's It-bag (because what's a classic collection without one of those?) is a limited-edition beauty dubbed The Miranda, which was designed in collaboration with writer/director/artist Miranda July. "It's interesting how the pieces can form the interior universe of Welcome Companions, but also once they're in a new owner's hands, also become part of their story and the owner becomes a part of our story," she says. "[The name Welcome Companions] was about this idea that the accessories become an anthropomorphic companion to people's everyday lives."

With all these different unexpected narratives and themes, one thing remains consistent throughout all her pieces: They're all designed and handmade in L.A. "As a culture, we've become so accustomed to the fast-pace availability of lower-priced fashion that many people don't understand what goes into making something, and because of that, the value of the objects is diminished to them," Laurel says. "Seeing a shirt for $20 doesn't translate to someone in terms of actual labor, design, and everything that went into making it. The whole element is completely lost in our consumer society, and making things [locally] is a way for me to try and instill some of that value and knowledge back into my pieces."
· Welcome Companions [Official Site]
· From Vet Tech to Jewelry Designer with the Help of Instagram [Racked]
· All Racked Young Guns 2014 [Racked]