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Marian Barker has Laguna Beach in the bag

Tall, blond, impeccably dressed, handbag designer Marian Barker could have just sauntered off the set of a Town & Country photo shoot in the Hamptons. But the Laguna Beach resident is as one-of-a-kind as the couture handbags she makes. She can talk a mile a minute about horoscopes, the Lakers, guardian angels and the classic looks of Jackie O. Strangers instantly become “honey” or “love” in conversation.

“If I’m having a bad day, I might let you know,” she says, “but it doesn’t happen very often.”
A Montreal native whose parents moved to San Clemente when she was a girl, Barker worked as an interior designer while her two sons were young. She’s married to Peter Barker, who runs a property management company.

A few years ago, she started thinking about what to do with all the fabric samples she’d been collecting from home design companies. At first, she thought: pillows. But then she fiddled with some fabric, folded it, and ta-da: a clutch.

She experimented for a few years on her sewing machine and came up with a technique using leather boards to make structured handbags. She hired a small crew and opened a studio off Laguna Canyon Road, where she has been making the bags for two years. Most sales have been online or custom orders for stylists.

Now, her Marian Paquette line of handbags is aiming for a wider market. Barker – whose maiden name is Paquette – recently opened a production site in Los Angeles to increase the number of bags she can make. The bags, which can retail for upward of $750, feature hand-stitched handles, custom beading and such fabrics as Italian velvet and Turkish woven textile. Each one has a name – Olivia or Edith, for instance – and a story.

“If you’re in the handbag business, you’ve got to be a little different,” Barker says. “Or you’re not going to make it.”

Neighborhood: South Laguna Beach

Why I love it: Since I was in the design business, I liked to change homes every three years. That’s the way it was then; you could make money. Finally after finishing this one house in Newport after only seven months, I said to my husband, “Guess what? I found a house in Three Arch Bay in South Laguna. Private beach, beautiful cove – your life’s going to change.” So we bought this house, and it’s been a great place to raise the kids. I have pictures of that beach from 1908 – the girls with their petticoats and umbrellas.

Designing influences: If it’s clothing or handbags, I’d say someone like Céline: extremely simple, clean designs, a sense of style that’s timeless. I’m classic but not too conservative. It’s more challenging for me to go to the flea market and find a long, old crocheted sweater and then maybe stitch it up the back, flip it around. People think “Where’d you get that dress?”

The lure of handbags: I’ve always had something for them. I don’t care if it’s a small little bag from Italy or one that I bought from the flea market. It’s a talking point. You put it on the counter or the bar, and somebody asks you where you got it, and it’s a story. They’re timeless.

Three things always in my handbag: Red lipstick, Chanel. It’s a must because my red lipstick can convert into rouge. I’ve been wearing red lipstick since I was 18. My phone because it’s my life. And, of course, my wallet.

Celebrity encounters: We’re Lakers fans, and my in-laws have had tickets for years. Our seats are second row right down by the Lakers bench. Once I saw (fashion designer) Diane von Furstenberg. I knew she was a Capricorn like me. I can name off so many designers who are Capricorns. Like goats, they want to climb to the top, and they’re not going to give up until they get there. So I walked up to her and said, “Hey, you’re the best,” and she said “Oh, you’re so sweet.” I’m not shy, as you can see.

Perfect day: I hate to say it, but I’m addicted to work. This is where I can explore. As long as I can get creative.

Unexplained phenomena: Every time I look at my clock, it says it’s 11 after the hour. It’s been happening for three years. Well, I was starting to wonder. I Googled it. But they say it’s a – I hate to say this – a guardian angel, giving me energy. It’s weird. But it’s all good. Something good is going on.

Favorite restaurant: Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach. We probably eat there at least every other week. If you ever go there, you have to have the edamame. They take them and put them on the grill with olive oil, salt and a little lime. They’re unbelievable.

Personal vibe: I’m not a negative person. I really think if you bring in bad energy, it just brings everybody else down. I feel like if you think positive, good things happen. Sometimes I say something as silly as “I’ve got to find a parking space, and I’m going to find one right in front.” Then I find one.


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