Roanne Jacobson’s artistic flair is an integral part of her personality
and of the success behind her beloved luxury leather goods brand Saben
Combining an artistic mind with an unerring instinct for colour and form is something of a creative jackpot. Add generosity of spirit into the mix and you have Roanne Jacobson, the innovative designer behind luxury leather brand Saben.
Boasting two decades of highly covetable collections, artistic creativity, and evolution, 2022 not only marks an exciting fresh era for Saben but is also a timely celebration of 20 years of success as a New Zealand brand.
Extreme creativity is in the very DNA of Roanne Jacobsen. She may have designed more bags than she can now remember, but her well of inspiration is still overflowing. Everyday life sparks fresh ideas and her mind is bursting with unexplored themes, colour palettes and shapes.
Even more admirable is the fact that her heart still skips a beat every time she sees a person adorned with one of her Saben creations.
“I truly cherish and celebrate that moment,” she admits. “I still get the same buzz from it, just as I did 20 years ago and that’s incredibly special.”
The fact that validation still resonates is most likely a key driver in the level of her passion for her art. For Saben is wholeheartedly an art form for Roanne – an outlet for her creativity and an extension of her fun-loving personality. The fact it has developed into a highly successful New Zealand business is an added bonus. In actual fact, the real success is the fact that creating, finessing, and designing her beloved bags feeds her artistic soul.
A lifetime of creative desire
Having pivoted from a childhood goal of being a professional ballerina (this was no pipe dream; she was actually a genuine talent), Roanne focused fairly early on around pursuing her artistic aspirations. Despite growing up in Sydney, she yearned to dabble in a bigger pool and set her sights on New York.
Specialising at the time in abstract fine art, Roanne still vividly remembers arriving in New York as a somewhat naïve 20-year-old.
“I emerged from the train station at lower East Side and just stood there soaking in that electric energy. It was everything I’d hoped for.”
With a natural exuberance (which she retains today), Roanne immersed herself in every form of creativity that surrounded her – from fashion and food through to music and three years of New York life.
“It was exactly what I needed and wanted artistically,” she recalls.
There’s an unspeakable joy associated with every unique bag in every Saben collection
Developing her own personal style was part of the journey, and it was a desire to hone a certain look that first saw her attempt bag design.
“I had a really clear picture of what I wanted but couldn’t find it anywhere, so tried to make it.”
In New Zealand at the time, she wanted an industrial-looking bag in a pale blue/grey and ended up working with a yacht sailmaker to achieve the end design.
“It was designed so it could be worn both around the waist or as a crossover and was quite utilitarian – but was the aesthetic I wanted.”
Discovering that the physical aspect of crafting a bag wasn’t in her natural wheelhouse, Roanne’s vision, however, clearly struck a chord, with her bag constantly drawing the attention of others.
The importance of collaboration
“I couldn’t sew well, so surrounded myself with people who had the skills to make what I visualised.”
With the level of detail in her mind extremely detailed and specific, it was important to have people on board who could realise and understand that – a philosophy that has continued to serve Saben well through its 20-year history.
Selling her first bag design allowed her to create a second, and so on. Self-funded and learning business skills as she went, Roanne’s Saben designs organically found their tribe – a tribe that continues to grow each year, as women delight in discovering desirable bags that perform as strongly as the design aesthetic promises.
“There was no grand business plan – I was problem-solving for myself. Every time I needed a bag to perform specific functions and couldn’t find one that met all those needs, I created it. And it turns out, other women have those needs and desires too.”
A lifelong legacy
Saben is named after Roanne’s grandmother Sarah Saben.
“An inspiring woman with a wicked sense of humour; I still treasure the bag she gave me when I was young, and I design Saben with that in mind – longevity and something meaningful to be handed on. Our bags accompany us on whatever path we take through life. ”
Unsurprisingly, bags are how Roanne starts her day. Her decisions around each outfit begin with her bag.
“Once I’ve decided on the bag, the rest of my outfit comes together, from the shoes I choose to the clothes I wear.”
While she may or may not realise it, her artistic intuition guides many of her decisions. It’s that eye for detail coupled with a sharp mind that understands the nuances of life – all reflected in those final designs, many of which have something of a cult following.
The beauty of Bea: the Bea crossbody is one of the many versatile Saben designs
Collaboration has always been part of Roanne’s nature. Not all artists have the capacity to share creatively, but for Roanne, this ability to share her vision and designs has fuelled her from the early days.
Her generosity around sharing is also part of the secret behind Saben’s success. As Roanne has journeyed through her own life, from motherhood to beyond, her bags have evolved alongside, reflecting changing needs and times.
Early designs were around a visual aesthetic combined with a practical purpose. These key traits remain, but as lifestyles have changed, Saben has changed with them.
“We never used to need a bag that allowed for a phone, but once a phone became an everyday essential, this was incorporated into designs. And I’m something of a perfectionist, so a lot of testing went into ensuring the phone sat beautifully and conveniently in each bag.”
Saben’s latest Soul Sisters series features the combined creativity of Roanne with embroidery artist Fleur Woods
The popular Tilly Crossbody is another example of Roanne designing to meet specific needs. Designed as a combination wallet, clutch, and crossbody, it’s the ultimate everyday for keeping your life in order.
“At the time I was travelling a lot and had different currencies I wanted to keep separate, as well as needing to keep business cards and receipts separate from personal ones, plus, space for my passport and phone. So Tilly was born and remains a firm favourite.”
Saben luggage (suitcases and cabin bags) came next.
“Again, I just couldn’t find something that had every element of convenience and design in it that I wanted for myself. So again, I designed the ultimate for my own needs.”
A meander through the Saben library of bag collections also offers an insight into Roanne’s personal journey. For example, she started designing larger bags when her two boys were younger – recognising in hindsight the need to carry around an increasing amount of life essentials.
A recent collaboration with Nelson artist Fleur Woods resulted in the poignant Soul Sisters limited-edition hand-crafted collection, combining all the luxe perfection Saben is known for, along with the calming spirituality of Fleur’s embroidery art. It’s a triumph of connectivity between art and design – and a celebration of two women recognising each other’s individual talents and respectfully and joyfully sharing.
While she’s firmly forward-focused, always working a season or three ahead, this year of celebrating 20 years offers the first opportunity in a long time for Roanne to take a breath and acknowledge the evolution of Saben – and of herself.
Roanne in 2004 when Saben monogrammed bags for VIP’s at Air NZ Fashion Week