Justine Nessi is full of energy, talent, humour and generosity. A trained architect who’s also raised three children, she recently launched her eponymous label of leather goods and bags that she makes by hand from her beautiful studio in a leafy street in Munich, Germany. Her pieces have that unmistakeable French stamp: exquisite craftsmanship, stunning design and a certain je ne sais quoi that made me want to buy up every single piece she has. She welcomed me into her beautiful studio for a chat and shared her story: I’d love to invite you to join our conversation.
Justine, you have an unusual journey that brought you from France to Germany!
I was born in France and studied design and interior design in Paris, where I then worked as an architect for ten years. I came to Germany 23 years ago and had 3 children, who are now 16, 20 and 22. I was always there for my children but, at the same time, I always worked. It wasn’t easy at all, but I couldn't imagine it any other way.
What made you start your own business?
My passion for art, fashion and beautiful things combined with my curiosity to discover new worlds again and again drove me to develop my own vision of style. Handicrafts have always fascinated me. I remember a documentary about an old man who made beautiful baskets. The silence, the patience, the desire for perfection, the rhythm, all had a great impact on me and after seeing it, I knew that I wanted to live like that. So I decided to go to Italy to learn the craft of the "Maroquinerie", (French for leather goods) and with this began my passion for what I do today: bags, leather, handicrafts. I opened my showroom/studio in Munich a year ago.
What is the most fulfilling thing about working for yourself?
I have almost always worked independently: at times, I’ve even had many employees. This wasn't always easy and could get very stressful. But since I don't know any differently, I couldn’t imagine not being self-employed. I love taking decisions by and for myself. I love the challenge: it’s very exciting and lively!
Do you have a ritual that you start your day with?
Yes, and it’s something I love! In the mornings, I open my shop, set up my bench outside and then sit down to watch life on Türkenstrasse (where my studio is). I fill a jar with sweets for the children who attend the primary school next door. They often come to visit me, some have become friends. I love the contact I have with the street, and the people who come by. I’ve always wanted a studio with a shop window to the street.
What has been the most challenging part of running your own business
Everything. Today, it’s a big challenge to do something like this. The competition is huge. The search for perfection in craftsmanship and the need to make it work economically are challenges I face every day.
What are your go-to strategies when you’re in a creative rut?
I haven't really experienced this so far. I have so many ideas but lack the time to explore them all. The production time of a bag is long—and it sometimes becomes an almost meditative phase. It allows me to recover from the creative part. Or new ideas come to me during production. And if nothing works anymore, I take a break without feeling guilty, and try to distance myself. Often, through drawing—I sketch fashion illustrations. That relaxes me a lot and it usually isn’t long before I have new ideas again. But actually the mixture of creative design and craftsmanship is ideal for me. Both feed off each other.
What is the most important piece of business (or life!) advice you ever received from someone?
A professor once told me, "Be curious, but not only about what it is you do." I find this to be so true—I get so much energy and so many ideas from encounters with others, from listening to what they do and what they share.
Are there other women you look to for inspiration?
There are so many women who inspire me. My mother for her freedom, my daughter for her curiosity, my friends who fight, search and try. Tilda Swinton for her intelligence and beauty, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Lee Miller... There are so many women who do very beautiful and great things. I am inspired by women who combine their femininity and independence beautifully.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to start their own creative business?
Curiosity, hard work and humour ;)!
Thank you so much for your time Justine—and all the very best for the future!
Images: Justine Nessi & Vatsala Murthy