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It's in the bag!

July 06, 2008|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA. -- Teen model Courtney Breeden needed an eye-catching accessory for her audition to appear in a runway show for Baltimore's Fashion Week, so she took along a B. Sassy handbag.

"We just thought we'd get a few more minutes in the audition," said Courtney, 15, of Maugansville, who has been modeling since the age of 7 and has been a professional since she was 12.

"I had the purse in my lap," Courtney said of her interview with Sharan Nixon, the president of Baltimore's Fashion Week.

"Can I see that?" Nixon asked.

Courtney handed it over, Nixon examined the handbag and told her she wanted them featured in the event's runway shows and finale.

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Courtney got the job, and the handbags got noticed. The creations will be part of the five-day Fashion Week that runs Aug. 11 to 15.

"I thought it was a joke at first," said Barbara Tritle, who created the B. Sassy handbag line more than four years ago in her Chambersburg home.

"We were just thrilled because this could be such a big break for both Courtney and I," Tritle said of Fashion Week, the inaugural effort to bring top-flight designers from around the world for a show in Baltimore, much like the fashion weeks in New York and other fashion capitals.

"There's never a duplicate. They're all done by hand," Tritle said. The handbags are "funky, whimsical works of art that you carry," she said.

"My family was in the shoe and handbag business all my life ... I did the handbag buying for the family for 20 years," said Tritle, whose family owns Bikle's Ski Shop in Hagerstown.

Tritle knew she wanted to design handbags and when she finally did, "I showed them to a few people and they went crazy over them."

"I do all the design work here at home," Tritle said in a room overflowing with fabrics, ribbons, costume jewelry and pins to embellish the bags.

Tritle follows her gut feelings in coming up with a design, first making a model from paper. Her partner, Carolyn Bishop, "does all the structural stuff inside the bag."

"I come up with the whacky part and she comes up with the functional part," Tritle said of Bishop.

"They're very functional. They're not just meant to be fun," she said. The bags take between four and 10 hours to make and pass through six sets of hands from start to finish.

The bags range in price from about $80 to $300, one of the more expensive creations being an "heirloom bag," which comes in a hatbox and serves as a ring bearer's pillow, a "wedding pouch" at the reception for checks and gift certificates and, at last, a handbag for the bride to take on her honeymoon.

Nixon was not the only one to take notice of B. Sassy handbags, Tritle said. An aide to first lady Laura Bush saw them in Bikle's and brought them to the attention of her boss, who now owns one.

The popularity of the bags seems to have mirrored that of the television show "Sex and the City," Tritle said.

A Shippensburg, Pa., student did a study to determine the B. Sassy demographic and found, Tritle said, "That it's definitely not an age thing. It's an attitude thing."

"They're having fun with their handbags," she said. "It shows their personality."

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