When Sussan Navidi Mahjouri was right out of college, she was an intern at British Vogue. That early experience put her in contact with some of the most prominent designers of the 20th century and shaped her attitudes about fashion for the rest of her life.
Mahjouri, who lives in Wayzata, is a creative and artistically talented designer who is happiest when she is making something. As a young student, she studied art and enjoyed painting, and she received her degree in graphic design from the University of the Arts London. As a young married woman, she found joy in painting portraits of her family and friends. Later, while organizing a medical spa in her husband’s cosmetic surgery practice, she spent her evenings making jewelry.
“It started with a tray of beads and materials that I would work with while my husband read or watched TV in the evenings,” she says. “Then it grew to a few drawers…then, when I began to rework and revive clothes, I took over a room in the basement.” Today, the SusiBash studio occupies the entire basement of the Mahjouri house. The evolution of Mahjouri’s interests are right there to be seen: The room full of clothes that she calls Revived by Susi was dark on a recent day as a couple of friends worked upstairs to help Mahjouri prepare for a trunk show to show her most recent creations to prospective retailers. The trunk show was celebrating the Suzi Bag and the Bobbie Bag, two carefully designed handbags that Mahjouri thinks might finally be the thing she really wants to focus her brand on for the foreseeable future.
“I’m like a minestrone soup,” she says. “There are just so many ingredients that I am working with.” But the handbags could be the focal point she’s been searching for all along. Her drive to create and make things was always more than hobby.
“I knew that I wanted to develop a brand,” she says. “I just didn’t know what that brand would be.” The handbags that have become her focus started when she took a class in New York from a woman who offered a course that was meant to meet a day or two a week for a couple of months.
“I begged her, ‘Please let me work with you for eight or nine hours a day for a week and learn all the techniques I need to know,’” Mahjouri remembers. “I just told her that I couldn’t stay in New York any longer than that.” The teacher agreed, and Mahjouri—who had already begun to make her own bags—was able to fill in the gaps in her technical knowledge.
The detail work on the bags is very carefully managed. Almost all of the seams are hand-sewn, and she sews all those stitches herself. In fact, Mahjouri does almost everything by herself—from cutting to dyeing to sewing to accessorizing.
Her retail strategy for the immediate future is to focus on stores in resorts and country clubs. Those shops where, as she says, you walk in not really needing anything, but can’t resist buying one or two things because you see things you don’t see anywhere else.
After years of wondering where all her creative energy would take her, Mahjouri has settled her focus on her handbags and is pushing toward her goal of making the SusiBash brand famous.
“I think I’ve finally found what I want to do,” she says.