Texan Style: Libby Lane

Libby Lane’s handbags tether Texas tradition to high fashion

photo: Jody Horton

Lane in her workshop.

Libby Lane might be the only handbag designer in America who spends her free time driving cattle across the Texas plains. After studying fashion design at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and working as a stylist in New York City, Lane set up shop amid the wide-open spaces of her family’s cattle ranch in Bushland, her Panhandle hometown. “There’s a sense of freedom here,” she says. “It’s peaceful. You’re one with nature. I wanted some quiet time and space to myself.”

Lane grew up on more than two thousand acres of land purchased by her great-grandfather during the Dust Bowl. Four generations of her family have farmed the spread, raising everything from horses and cattle to wheat and milo. Lane’s leather workshop is housed in a simple stucco building—a former bunkhouse—nestled among white barns.

Her bags marry the utilitarianism of farm life with the artful eye of a fashion insider. The leather is supple and carefully conditioned, the shapes strong and austere. “It’s an innate thing,” Lane says of her design process. “I want a shape that will stand out and be unique…even if it’s really simple.”

The designer on her family's ranch, her signature F Tote in town.

Farm Hand

The designer on her family’s ranch, her signature F Tote in town.

Lane’s earliest designs, made for herself, were inspired by a tour she took of Chicago’s historic Horween Leather tannery while she was in school. The bags proved striking, and friends soon began asking for bags of their own. This spring, Lane is experimenting with texture, pairing smooth leather with side panels made of suede-like “rough-out,” the “wrong side” of leather that’s usually relegated to the inside of bags or jackets. As with all of her products—whether it’s a handbag, a clutch, or her upcoming line of leather aprons—the look is modern without being trendy. They’ll last, too, because Lane constructs every one by hand.

Each bag begins with a visit to local distributors to select the leather. “I throw it on the table and roll it out, inspect it,” Lane says. “I look at color, I look at clarity, I look at the marks.” She chooses oiled leather—the same type used for saddlebags—so thick that fabric liners are unnecessary. From there she returns to her studio and lays out her patterns, cuts the pieces, paints the edges, hammers in rivets, and finally stands behind an industrial sewing machine to stitch the final product. It’s slow and somewhat dangerous work—the tools can easily slice through flesh—and female practitioners like Lane remain rare.

But slow is the only way to do things right, an ethic Lane learned from Texan leather workers near the family farm. She apprenticed with men who made boots and saddles, skills they learned from their fathers and grandfathers. Lane would bring them cookies and watch them as they worked, observing how they cut the leather, how they held it. “I absorbed the whole thing,” she says. “The whole tradition of what it was all about to be a craftsman.” A vital tradition, her teachers would certainly agree, to which she now belongs.

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