Into the Magic Shop with Susan Alexandra and Pigeon
The designer on creating a trippy wonderland in the LES and making sparkly dog accessories:
“Pigeon is my eternal muse and constant companion, so of course I had to adorn him...”
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In the five years since launching her collection of whimsical, Instagrammable beaded handbags, the work of designer Susan Alexandra Kornopens in a new tab has caught thousands of eyes and few have been able to look away since. The boldly colored purses, charms, and jewelry — resembling everything from watermelons to martini glasses to pizza slices — have attracted the likes of Gigi Hadidopens in a new tab, Emily Ratajkowskiopens in a new tab, Pete Davidsonopens in a new tab, Euphoria star Chloe Cherryopens in a new tab, YouTuber Emma Chamberlainopens in a new tab, comedian Ziweopens in a new tab, and hundreds of others who prefer cheery maximalism to the doldrum minimalism that has come to dominate trendy fashion styles over the past decade.
Unsurprisingly for someone so dedicated to harnessing and creating joy (for Fashion Week she has staged a musicalopens in a new tab and a Bat Mitzvah!), Korn is wholeheartedly a dog person. We sat down to talk to her about her beloved rescue Chihuahua, Pigeon, her Lower East Side storefrontopens in a new tab, and her new line of “fun, fabulous, sparkly” accessories for dogs.
Tell me about how Pigeon came into your life!
Pigeon came to me in June 2016. I had decided on a whim to foster a dog and a friend of mine had a really cute Chihuahua. She recommended Waggytail Rescueopens in a new tab, a rescue group that takes small dogs out of kill shelters or hoarding situations and brings them to New York where everybody wants a small dog. I remember I signed up at midnight to be a foster, then I woke up to an email in the morning saying, “Hi, we have a dog on his way from Los Angeles. Can you take him tomorrow?” I was shocked.
He had been at a kill shelter in Compton so I had no idea what the dog would be like. His name was Samson. I went to Greenpoint and met this girl at a coffee shop (she had taken him on the airplane from Los Angeles to New York) and she was like, “This is such a special dog. I’m really tempted to keep him but I already have a foster Chihuahua.” I had no idea what to do. I was like, “I don’t want a yappy Chihuahua,” but I picked him up and got nothing from him, so I was like, “Okay, well, alright, I’ll take him until somebody else gets him.”
This was very random but a friend of mine had an art show that day — at this place called the Wild Bird Fundopens in a new tab on the Upper West Side. It’s this organization in New York where if you ever find an injured bird or squirrel or chipmunk, they will pick it up and rehabilitate it. It’s so special. My friend was doing an art show there to raise money for them. So I rushed uptown with this dog, and when I walked in, the head person at the Wild Bird Fund said, “Oh, that dog is just the size of our pigeons. He’s just a little pigeon!” So that’s his origin story. He is a little pigeon — he’s a city boy, which I feel is such an appropriate thing.
I figured you named him after the city bird but the name’s inspiration goes even deeper! You started making the bags about a year after you got him, right?
Oh, yeah, I was not making the bags when I got him. He was actually one of the main reasons I started to make the bags. It’s a really special story: We were walking, and we lived in sort of the apex of where Little Italy and Chinatown meet. I took him on a walk, and he’s very strong-willed and determined — he’s only like eight pounds, but he’s very forceful.
He pulled me on a different route than we usually took, and that’s how I stumbled upon the place where I met the woman who makes my bags. I walked by this little storefront and I saw this woman crocheting but using beads, and it was because Pigeon pulled me there. It’s kind of amazing; it’s because of him.
That’s so magical.
I think dogs are magical and I feel like he has contributed to the magic in my life.
Can you tell me about making the leashes and collars for the brand?
I mean, Pigeon is my eternal muse and constant companion, so of course I had to adorn him. I used to put necklaces on him for shoots and then I was just like, “Wait, why don’t I literally just make dog necklaces, a.k.a. collars and leashes?” That’s how it came about. We’re actually about to do a relaunch of all of our dog products so they’re a little bit more ergonomically designed. I talked to Pigeon, he had some suggestions, and we’re relaunching the dog collars and leashes. But they’re just really fun, fabulous, sparkly things and we get so many compliments. They’re just so cute on the doggies.
Totally. When you were designing them did you have any difficulty making them durable?
Actually, the reason that this is a really natural progression for me is because the bags are made of such a strong, durable material. They are able to withstand lots and lots of weight, and they’re waterproof. It’s a really durable material that can lend itself really well to a lot of different things. It just made sense.
Yeah, that’s surprising because they look so delicate.
It’s definitely the number one question. People are like, “I have a Pit Bull” or “I have a big dog, is it durable?” and I always say that this is their “going out” collar. It isn’t for hiking in the mountains per se, but it actually can withstand heavy-duty use. But you know, nothing is more precious than your dog’s life. So if you know that your dog’s going to be pulling and tugging, maybe this is just for a special occasion. Pigeon’s eight pounds, so I don't have that fear. He wears his leash and collar, and it’s absolutely fine, but don’t risk it if you’re nervous. If it’s a question, don’t risk it.
Totally, like if you have a Mastiff or something.
Yeah! But again, if you’re just taking adorable photos of them, that’s a great piece for that. People freak out when they see a cute dog wearing a sparkly collar leash — like, you’ll never get as many compliments.
Are you adding more colors with the relaunch?
Yeah, we’re doing more colors. And what we learned in the first round was that the sizing of dogs’ necks, with fur and all these elements, [changes], so we’ve made it really adjustable this time. We’re so used to jewelry, which we offer in a couple of sizes and lengths, but with dogs, you might have a Chihuahua, but it might have long hair, so it fits differently than Pigeon’s collar. There are so many nuances so we’re doing totally adjustable pieces and we’re doing new colors and styles. I’m really excited to see the new ones out in the world.
Could you tell me about designing your new store?
We opened in October. I wanted to create a place in New York City that felt like nowhere else in the world — like a magical dreamland. It had to have color, it had to have personal touches. It’s just a place that feels really warm and cozy and special. I’m so happy when people connect to the space because I wanted people to walk in and love it and just feel moved by it.
Do you and Pigeon have any favorite spots nearby or in NYC that you like to go together?
So obviously he likes to go anywhere where they have free dog treats. Where we love to go is this dog park near where I live called Corlears Hook Park. We live in the Lower East Side and there’s not a lot of green space and this park is pretty close. We also love Tompkins Square Dog Park. I love anywhere that allows me to bring Pigeon and sit outdoors. He comes everywhere with me.
In the summer, my favorite night would be going to Kiki’s or Cervo’s and bringing Pigeon and having him sit on my lap while I have dinner. Honestly, he loves anywhere that has carpeting; I have carpets in my apartment, but he’ll pull me into places that have plush carpeting so he can rub his body on it. He’s such a creature of comfort; he loves anything soft and plush. It’s very endearing.
Rachel Davies is a writer who has written for numerous publications including Vox, Wall Street Journal, and Architectural Digest and the parent of a beautiful Cocker Spaniel mix named Thea.
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