In an unforgettable moment from The Wizard of Oz, the world suddenly transforms from drab black and white to color. For Krenoir founder Jean K, seeing vivid shades for the first time ultimately led to her own magical journey — a luxurious yet playful handbag label known for vibrant hues, from magenta to seafoam green. “The creation of color is meaningful for me,” Jean says. “It represents my journey. When I was 4, 5 years old in Korea in the 1960s, Korea was still dealing with the aftermath of the Korean war and wasn’t in a good state… Lots of homes did not have the luxury of color TV.” That changed when Jean’s father brought her colorful picture books from the U.S. featuring popular characters, like Mickey Mouse and Charlie Brown. “It was a shock to me; I’d never seen such pinks and blues in my life. It was the first time my eyes were opened to color.”
Jean became “obsessed” with a rainbow of shades, and she began drawing. Even presently, when she thinks of a potential new shade to add to her line, her memories of color are all intrinsically linked to her childhood. To wit, a shade of blue on her mind currently harkens to a dress she once fought over with her sister.
Krenoir’s debut range of exotic skin handbags, card holders, and key holders are rendered in 20 punchy shades. The brand’s name includes the word “noir” for a reason — because when you mix all the colors, the resulting shade is black. That breadth of palette is practically unheard of for a luxury exotic handbag label. “With my colors, I keep adding and adding,” Jean says. “When I told companies I wanted 10 or 20 colors, they said I was crazy!”
But her decades of fashion-industry experience have taught her a lot about what she would ultimately want from her own brand, and she persisted in finding the right partners to make that dream happen. Before launching Krenoir, Jean spent about 30 years running a bustling New York City showroom and buying office, representing brands like Just Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood, Missoni, Gianfranco Ferré, and Blumarine. In the early aughts, she began channeling the luxury-market intel she’d accrued by designing accessories, handbags, shoes, and scarves, sometimes for herself, other times as collaborations with indie brands. When Krenoir started becoming a reality, Jean harnessed her showroom experience and connections in terms of resourcing, design, and product. The only issue? Finding a company that wouldn’t balk at hand-painting animal skins in more than a dozen different colors.
Silvano Biagini, a small, family-run Milan luxury handbag brand that works with luxe materials like reptile and printed full-grain leather, stepped up to the challenge. “Silvano said they could happily make all the colors I wanted,” Jean recalls with glee. With Silvano Biagini as her production support, Krenoir creations are made by skilled Italian artisans, who hand-paint the skin and execute Jean’s designs to perfection. Jean visits the workshop regularly to check in, helping with and overseeing everything from the cutting to finalizing the showstopping pieces. She often visits local Italian tanneries, inspecting and hand-picking the finest skins.
And yet, these impeccable materials and this craftsmanship come at relatively affordable prices for such luxe pieces, starting at $195 for key holders and ranging from $1,950 to $4,200 for handbags. “Krenoir’s strength is not only the design but the price point,” Jean explains. “It’s surprising compared to other exotic skin bags on the market.” Mere months after her first season and U.S. debut, the brand’s Kandie handbag, with its signature hand-painted resin animal sculpture handle, was a finalist in the Accessories Council’s 2019 Design Excellence Awards. “I’m a big animal lover, and I want to express that beauty of nature through my handbags,” she says. “I could never pick my favorite one from the collection, they’re all my babies, but honestly, I do love that flamingo one,” a style that was featured recently in the brand’s first editorial cameo, in Nylon Spain.
Next up? Expanding to France, Japan, China, and Jean’s native Korea, with hopes that Krenoir’s stealth versatility factor resonates globally, for myriad occasions, and with customers of all ages. “I wanted to make bags that are practical, that look fancy for parties, but have detachable crossbody straps so you can wear them with white T-shirts and vintage jeans,” Jean says. “I wanted something that both 20-year-olds and 60-year-olds could wear.” Mission accomplished!