The Purse You Want From the Python No One Wants

SAN DIEGO (TheStreet) -- Working on a farm during her Houston childhood, Camille Zarsky would stumble across snakeskin shed by pythons and marvel at the beauty and elegance in the intricate patterns of each skin.

She describes it as something of an infatuation.

That infatuation morphed into the defining element of a wildly successful career for the young New York accessories designer.

Zarsky, who set out on her own in the fashion industry just three years ago, designs sleek, elegant python-skin handbags and clutches that are frequently part of the ensembles of celebrities walking the red carpet. Padma Lakshmi and Gayle King are among her admirers.

So too are the fashion arbiters at Vogue, InStyle and Redbook, who feature Zarsky's high-priced handbags and accessories on their pages regularly. (Prices for bags in her collection are as high as $35,000).

Now Zarsky is attracting attention in another way, this time for trying to help tackle an ecological problem while making her fashionable luxury handbags. And yes, pythons are again part of the story.

The reptiles have multiplied in the Florida Everglades, growing to be such a problem that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission last year sponsored a monthlong Python Challenge public hunt of the snakes.

At the suggestion of her father, Zarsky, who sources skins primarily from Europe, has chosen to source skins for her collection from the Everglades as well. The bags she makes from the Everglades skins will be individually numbered works of art, she says.

"I love the idea of taking a resource that would otherwise thrown away and making something very artful out of it," says Zarsky during a recent telephone interview.

What initially seemed like a win-win, though, has grown into a bit of a challenge.

Python skins from the Everglades are often smaller then Zarsky needs for her handbags. What's more, finding tanneries in the United States that can meet the tanning and dying specifications for Zarsky's unique, vibrantly colored designs is also not as simple as one might think.

"I haven't given up. I'm still sourcing from the Everglades," she says. "I have a couple of tanneries that I'm about to start working with that have promised me good prices. It's going to be very trial and error with the skins from the Everglades. Hopefully we can achieve some basic colors that I love."

Zarsky, it's important to note, has never been easily daunted. If that were the case, the 28-year-old would not be where she is today.

When she landed in New York City years ago with dreams of making it in the fashion industry, Zarsky didn't have a single contact or connection in the business.

Years of hard work (she started as an intern at 18), talent and making the right connections combined to fuel Zarsky's now skyrocketing success as an accessories designer.

Her collection is sold in expensive boutiques around the country. In New York City the bags can be found in Sucre on Bleecker Street in the West Village. In Texas, Zarsky's line is carried by Katia Boutique.

Zarsky is also in negotiations with two big luxury retailers to carry her designs, which range from small entry-level items such as pouches that cost just $95 to the much pricier totes and shoulder bags.

What's most striking about Zarsky's handbags are the colors vibrant blues, yellows, purple and red on a python skin background.

Her inspiration comes from travels to foreign countries. A blue in her upcoming collection was inspired by a visit to Greece, and she see colors for her collection in the ordinary as well. "I was in a pizza restaurant and saw a cool purple I really became fixated on," Zarsky says. "I always have my eyes open."

"A lot of my colors come from the sunset. That has always really inspired me," she adds.

Contemporary art is yet another source of inspiration. Her mother is the education curator at the Houston Museum of Contemporary Art, which had a substantial impact on the young designer's development and sense of style.

Zarsky says she designs her bags for the person looking for an item that is uncompromisingly perfect, on which every last detail has been carefully reviewed. She strives to create designs that are timeless, and also practical.

So what's next for someone who before the age of 30 developed a collection of luxury accessories in demand by celebrities and fashion editors alike?

"My real dream is to open a really beautiful boutique on the Upper East Side, where we have the collection in front and artisans in the back," Zarsky says. "And women can come in and order customized bags and watch them being made. I want to continue to be able to make specialized pieces that are pieces of art -- that a women may get for her 35th birthday from her husband and pass it down to her daughter as something really special."

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