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What's in Helena de Natalio's Handbag?

With her Helena de Natalio line of handbags recently picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue— and featured in the retailer's spring advertising campaign—BayArea native and designer Helen Lubetkin, 29, is understandably optimistic about what lies ahead for her bohemian-cool line of leather carry-alls and clutches. We caught up with the Marin resident to chat about her latest collection, her stint in the Peace Corps and the contents of her handbag.

How is your forthcoming collection for late summer/early fall 2009 a departure from your previous collections?

This is my first time really playing with color and feeling confident with it. Something that's really unique for me is that the collection I'm currently designing is the first one I've done while living in the States.

If we looked inside your handbag right now, what would we find?

Because of jury duty, I have a lot of reading material. I just got the new Vogue, because I was traveling last week.

My friends always make fun of me because I have handbags inside my handbags. I have the wristlet that you can take out as an evening bag. I have another small purse inside my big purse, the Giselle, which I always have, a very old planner, what I like to call my vintage Kate Spade wallet that's from college and an umbrella.

You joined the Peace Corps in 2003. What kind of work did you do during your time in Paraguay?

I was assigned to a farmers' cooperative, and they mostly produced soy. I worked with them on accounting programs, and we implemented an inventory program.

I personally enjoy cooking, and we were in a soy farming area, so I learned a lot about soy cooking. I swear when I left [to enter the corps], it was right when people started doing soy lattes and eating Luna Bars. I thought it was really neat to go down to live in a city where they make the soy, where you can see the initial product, the raw materials.

Tell us about the name of your company.

The name of my line comes from the city I was in, and that was Natalio. That was my nickname. There's a million Helenas in South America, and that was my current nickname amongst my friends.

What's next for your company? Do you have any plans to expand your line beyond handbags?

When I first started, I did a few belts, but I enjoy making bags more. It's something I can relate to more.

I kind of feel like I don't want to ruin a good thing. I am just happy in this economy that I'm doing well.

One change is that I am going to start doing some production in the States. I wanted to lower my carbon footprint. I still want to work with Argentinian artisans, but I have found some really neat Native American artisans up in Marin County, and they've started to make some of my bags. I feel like I have to have a connection to the production.