PIA'S ARM CANDY
"IF a woman is investing in a handbag, then it has to be the best quality that it can possibly be, otherwise it's just cheating the customer," says Pia Tonna , whose namesake handbag collection won the UK Trade & Investment "Passport to Export" government-backed award for "Exceptional New Exporter" on Thursday night. "I am so excited to have won this - the Piatonna brand is now being sold in 23 countries and will be moving into Harrods, Fenwick and Fortnum & Mason for the first time with our autumn/winter collection." After studying fashion in the UK, Italian-based Tonna worked for fashion houses including Paul Smith and Chanel. "In the back of my mind I always wanted to design and one day I approached my manager at Chanel with my tail between my legs. I let her know I was going to start my own business and expected to get fired on the spot, but she was incredibly supportive. I stayed at my position there until the design side grew too large to focus on both jobs." Inspired by the fine craftsmanship of vintage designer clothes, Tonna's bags don't skimp on the details – quite the opposite. Totes feature several different types of animal skin – python exteriors, soft deerskin on strap undersides and laminate leather linings. "I love to spend hours at leather trade fairs to hunt out the most unusual skins. I don't care how much it costs, it has to be exceptional quality and it has to stand out. Handbag labels have such stiff competition now. I try to make mine as beautiful and original as possible." Bright rope piping and lasered gold leather inside bags do indeed add a luxurious touch to Tonna's products. "My favourite detail is the little cowbell on the side. It detaches, so you can use it as a keyring, and it's a useful way to find your bag if it's lost under a pile of coats. I know that because we were celebrating after the awards and having had a few cocktails, the bell came in handy!"