Chloe Abadi is as vibrant and unique as her brand, Miss Mochila—what Vogue France described a few years ago as the “it-bag for summer.” The colorful, handwoven bags come in a variety of styles—from shoulder bags, to backpacks to clutches—and hail from South America. Abadi imports them and sells them to the finest boutiques in the land. Apparently, in Colombia, they were traditionally for men and so ingrained in the culture that everyone from “uncles to drug traffickers” wear them. But here, the demographic is a bit different—from Cara Delavigne to Katy Perry to Shakira to Alessandra Ambrosio to Princess Beatrice. In a culture where it’s nearly impossible to be unique, these one-of-a-kind bags reign king. Or queen. Because the bags are made only by women. And not just any women—the Wayuu people live in matrilineal tribes and the children carry the name of their mothers. The women are the cultural leaders of the clans and the weaving of the Mochila bags is one of the most sacred parts of their culture.
But though she is less known for it, Abadi is also a fierce Zionist—a native of France, with North African born parents, she grew up in a traditional Jewish home and went to Israel often. She has both flair and the fervor of someone protecting her home and her history. Legend has it that the Wayuu women learned to weave from a spider and that because each design is unique to the weaver, each bag tells that person’s story. And on the tradition lives. This is Chloe Abadi’s woven tale.
PA: I’ve read a bit about the Wayuu women. It’s wild. What happens to them when they get their period?
CA: They go into a room for a month or a year and have to make a hammock or something big and then they come out again. They cannot eat meat. It’s really a tribe mentality.
PA: And you discovered this how?
CA: Because my husband is from Colombia. So we went one day and I saw these beautiful bags—in Colombia, men wear Mochila. En fait, now women wear them as well, but five years ago, only men. I only wanted one for me in the beginning but then I put a picture somewhere and everyone was like, ‘Oh my God, I have to have one.’
PA: And then you were like, I have to start selling them?
CA: Yes. And one day, my friend called me and said, ‘What’s up, Miss Mochila, we don’t see you anymore, you are only working.’ And I thought, ‘En fait, that’s the best name,’ so I called my company Miss Mochila.
PA: You grew up in Paris?
CA: Yes, I was a buyer and I’ve worked in fashion basically all my life.
PA: And when did you move to NY?
CA: About ten years ago. And I opened Miss Mochila in 2013.
PA: Did you grow up very Jewish?
CA: Very Jewish. Kosher house, separate dishes, going to synagogue every Shabbat. . .
PA: In a big Jewish community?
PA: Do you really feel the anti-Semitism in France?
CA: Not in the neighborhood I’m in, but if you go out of Paris, it’s not safe. It’s very unsafe. You cannot walk with a kipa. Even in Paris.
CA: In the 16th arrondissement it’s okay but in other places—never! Even in the 19th, you really can’t walk with a kipa.
PA: Did you go to Israel a lot growing up?
CA: Yes, it was the first trip I ever took and then we went back, maybe, four times a year. I love Israel. I love everything about it. The people, the food, everything. I even got married in Israel.
PA: What is your relationship to Judaism now?
CA: We do Shabbat every Friday night, we do all the holidays, everything. I want my kids to grow up in a Jewish house.
PA: Tell me a little about Miss Mochila and how you do it.
CA: It all starts right here in my studio. Someone translates for me, because the Wayuu do not speak Spanish. The bags are first sent to to Barranquilla and then, from there, they are sent to me. I FaceTime with clients all over the world. Everywhere from Israel to Los Angeles to Korea. I show them what we have and they choose what they like and then I ship them.
PA: How many designs are there?
CA: I don’t want to say millions, but thousands and thousands.
PA: And each one is handmade and unique.
CA: Yes, each one. Each ones takes maybe one month to make.
PA: And tell me where you sell them?
CA: Barney’s, Bergdorf’s, I’ve done a collaboration with Bonpoint and Urban Outfitters, I sell to an amazing store in Korea called Tomorrowland. In Israel, I sell to a surfer store. In London, and in Paris, of course.
PA: Of course. What’s your favorite drink?
CA: Dirty Martini.
PA: How do you drink your coffee?
CA: Latte, with no sugar.
PA: How do you eat your eggs?
CA: Egg white. But I don’t eat a lot of eggs, en vrai.
PA: Did you have a Bat Mitzvah?
CA: No! Because I am Sephardic and we do not do Bat Mitzvahs in France, only the Ashkenazis do.
PA: Really? Where are your parents from?
CA: My mom is from Tunisia and my dad is from Morocco.
PA: Wow. Have you been there?
CA: Yes, to both places.
PA: I went to Morocco twelve years ago. I loved it but they were not so happy to see Jewish me.
CA: Now it is safer.
PA: I would love to go to Tunisia.
CA: I would not recommend going now, it’s not so safe.
PA: No place is safe anymore.
CA: Israel is safe.
PA: You’re kidding.
CA: Ah! For me? Israel is the safest place! You are scared when you go to Israel?!
PA: I mean, sometimes. If I’m there during a war, for example, I’m petrified!
CA: Oh my god! En vrai, you are Americain, eh? Because the Americans, they don’t like to go to Israel when something happens. Only the French people, we go.
PA: Were you ever there during a war?
CA: Mais, I went there two years ago! I’m more scared in New York City than I am in Israel! Moi!? Tomorrow there is something, I go to Israel! I don’t care. The one place I am not scared is Israel.
PA: How can you not be?
CA: Mais, no! You can’t be scared. I have the Israeli blood. I am NOT scared! It is in Hashem’s hands, as we say.
PA: It’s in Hashem’s hands?
CA: Yes! You know people leave Paris to go to Israel!? Because they are scared in Paris and in Israel they are not!
PA: I know. That’s why there are so many French people in Israel. But still. You would take your kids there during a war?
CA: Moi? Tomorrow! Mais, of course. After what happened with the knifing in the market in Jerusalem, I’m going right into the market in Jerusalem! My favorite market in the whole world! What else can you do?
PA: You can get on a plane and get the fuck out of there.
CA: Mais non! No way! If we have to move somewhere, we move to Israel. Moi, j’adore Israel. I am very pro-Israel. I am super pro-Israel.
PA: What’s your favorite Jewish Holiday?
CA: Rosh Hashana?
CA: Je ne sais pas. New year, new beginning. . .
PA: You do all the holidays?
CA: Every single holiday.
PA: Gefilte fish or lox? I know Sephardics don’t do gefilte fish—
CA: Lox! Gefilte fish, my god. The first time I tried gefilte fish, at my husband’s family’s holidays in Colombia, I had to spit in the napkin!
PA: Where are your husband’s parents from?
CA: His mother is from Colombia and his father is from Panama.
PA: Right. There’s a big Jewish community in Panama.
CA: The biggest after Argentina. And they are religious and eat kosher! There is a beautiful island there, you can rent it.
PA: The entire island!?
CA: It’s very small. You sleep in a hammock.
PA: I’m not sleeping in a hammock. Maybe a Miss Mochila hammock.
CA: We went and there was another family there and they were from Israel.
PA: I’m sure that made you happy.
CA: So happy! You can’t imagine.
PA: I’m surprised you’re not going to enroll in the army.
CA: Moi? Non. But tomorrow, if my son told me he was going to join the Tzahal, I don’t want to say it would be my biggest gift, but I will be the proudest mom ever.
PA: Are you out of your mind? He’s TWO!
CA: You don’t know me and how I’m thinking, en vrai. If tomorrow he told me he was going to join the Tzahal, I think I would be prouder than if he told me he got accepted at Harvard.
PA: You are truly a fascinating creature. What are 5 things in your bag right now?
CA: My cellphone, of course, my keys, my computer and a few lipsticks.
PA: What’s your favorite pair of shoes?
CA: Flip flops.
PA: Figures. The national shoe of Israel.