Fashion: Woodside inspires local designer's new collection of handbags


By Kate Daly

Normally the fashion industry thrives on constantly changing styles to keep it alive, so it comes as somewhat of a surprise to hear local leather goods designer and retailer Lisa Rissetto say, "I'm fine with them (customers) buying one and making it last."

After more than 25 years of experience selling handbags and belts to major retailers, she is now coming out with her first product lines under the new Rissetto label.

She describes the Woodside and Canvas collections of handbags, totes, clutches and wallets as functional, casual, classic, country and equestrian-inspired. They're named after "some beautiful names in our town," such as Miramontes Fold Over Tote, Runnymede Backpack, Skyline Satchel and Corto Crossbody Clutch.

Ms. Rissetto, 55, keeps a quarter horse at her Woodside home and rides the trails. Her teenage daughter, Mimi Kelly, leases a horse to ride on the hunter-jumper circuit. In late July Mimi was competing in the Giant Steps Charity Classic in Sonoma while Rissetto was debuting her new lines at a trunk show there.

As a sponsor and vendor at this year's Menlo Charity Horse Show in Atherton from Aug. 4 through 9, she had a booth there for the third year in a row.

It's all part of her plan to place her new collections in 300 retail stores around the world. Locally her products are available at Emily Joubert in Woodside and In Her Shoes in Palo Alto.

"People who are equestrians appreciate the same high quality leather you would appreciate in a saddle and bridle," she says, adding it's all about "that smell, that squeakiness to them, like an old vintage suitcase."

Twice a year she travels to Milan, Italy, to handpick leather at a show where generations of Italians display skins they make using an all-vegetable natural process she calls "the oldest method of tanning."

The skins are byproducts of the meat packing industry. She prefers the cowhides from France and the lambskins from New Zealand.

Ms. Rissetto has built up working relationships with many tanners over the years, and enjoys revisiting her Italian heritage.

"I always loved fashion. My mother and grandmother were both into design," she says.

She earned a bachelor's degree in textiles and clothing at the University of Delaware, where she met her "very supportive husband," Tim Kelly, now a retired Oakland police officer.

She worked for a handbag company in New York before moving west in 1987 to become a merchant in the accessories division of Esprit in San Francisco.

Next came G Hensler & Co., which she eventually bought. It now serves as the parent company for her private label company, 49 Square Miles, a label she is currently "evolving" to Rissetto.

Headquarters is a repurposed warehouse in South San Francisco with 25 employees on the payroll selling about two million products a year.

Ms. Rissetto designs everything. Some items feature hand-hammered brass sandblasted in Taiwan, others are accented with horn pieces from India and Africa. The jute and organic cotton canvas is sourced in China and trimmed in Italian leather.

Even the bags that look like crocodile are made from Italian leather. The skins are stamped with a crocodile pattern and then hand-stained to give the impression they came from a reptile.

Final assembly takes place in China where care is taken to wrap the handles to soften the edges, or the bag "is contoured so it sticks next to your body," she explains.

"A handbag is a very personal thing," she says, "something (owners) can cherish and that can get better over time. Buy what you really love and it'll last."

Prices on the new lines range from $110 for the Woodside Credit Card Case to $695 for the Greer Drawstring Hobo.

Go to for more information.

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