daphne benzaquen of daph.
As an MBA student at Washington University, Daphne Benzaquen wanted to invest in a high-quality leather backpack. She had a specific vision in mind, but was unable to find anything on the market to match. With a need often comes an unexpected solution. Having zero design experience, Benzaquen decided to bring her idea to life on her own. She saw it as an opportunity to share the artistry of leather manufacturers in Peru, where she was born, and met with many on a trip there to establish connections. Shortly after, in 2017, she launched daph., a handbag line based out of St. Louis. Every piece is designed by Benzaquen and handcrafted in her native country using quality, authentic resources, including leather and alpaca fleece. Last fall, she expanded her brand to include a small selection of apparel. Her products currently can be found at Urban Matter and Shine Boutique, as well as on her website, shopdaph.com.
1. Where I find inspiration: My first collection is a tribute to the women who inspired me to start daph. My anita. bucket bag is named after my grandma. Its dainty chain reminds me of her. My second collection is based on Peru’s natural monuments, like the circular ruins (my Moray circle purse). I designed this spring’s collection when daph. was growing. I constantly was surprised by its success, so these pieces are brighter and feature surprise elements. For instance, a weekender bag has a side pocket perfect for a wine bottle
2. On St. Louis support: I’m a proud St. Louisan and appreciate the collaboration and support the community provides entrepreneurs. I’ve met with several business owners, and they’ve all been happy to connect me with other resources that allow me to keep growing as a designer and expand my brand.
3. My favorite looks: I go with what feels comfortable. I firmly believe I’m more confident when I feel comfortable. Lately I’ve been all about fashion booties and minimalistic style. I like basics, neutrals and black—no flashy patterns. But there also are days I love pulling on a skirt, tights and Frye boots.
4. Favorite designers: I love FRAME and J Brand jeans. And you can never go wrong with a Madewell T-shirt. I like having unique pieces, so I do a lot of shopping when I travel, especially when I go to Peru. I love the high-quality pieces I find there.
5. What I wear to work: Jeans and an oversized sweater. I also love thick accent scarves, and I’ve gotten really into hats recently, especially my wide-brimmed camel hat. It makes me more memorable and confident.
6. What I wear on the weekends: I usually wear my own alpaca joggers because they’re an easy transition piece. They look good with sneakers just as much as with booties and a scarf. I wear a lot of my own clothes; that’s why I made them!
7. Colors and textures that speak to me: I like combining textures and mixing fabrics like suede booties, FRAME jeans and a textured alpaca fleece turtleneck sweater. When I pick an outfit, I want at least one textured piece. And even though I gravitate toward neutrals, I like one subtle pop.
8. Where I relax: I love the Pilates Center in Ladue. I get a lot of good ideas there because my brain turns off. I live in Clayton, so I often walk around Shaw Park. I also spend every Sunday with my dad so I get a break from working. I love what I do, but it’s also good to fully disengage.
9. How I give back: I mentor young designers in St. Louis, and a portion of every daph. sale goes to a different Peruvian nonprofit each year. We’re currently focusing on a special needs school for abandoned children in Lima. I’ve visited a couple of times to interact with the kids and learn their stories. When I choose an organization, I like to visit and find out how I can best help them.
10. Favorite STL restaurants: I have an Instagram food blog (@thechompblog), and I love going out to eat. My current favorites include I Fratellini and Cate Zone Chinese Café. I’m also obsessed with the turkey sandwich at Nathaniel Reid Bakery.
Photo of Daphne Benzaquen by Bill Barrett