How Local Painter Lauren Zavala Turns Designer Bags into Fine Art

The Providence-based artist elevates luxury goods into gallery-quality couture.

Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Madison Trapkin

Lauren Zavala never intended painting clothing and accessories to be anything more than a hobby. In 2016, she was completing her master’s degree in London when she decided to embellish a jacket for her boyfriend as a way to decompress from the stresses of school. Soon, friends and even strangers began asking about it, Zavala says, and poof, it became a business.

See all »

Fast-forward six years, and Zavala, who recently relocated from Denver to Providence, Rhode Island, has brought her paintbrushes into the designer realm, fusing fashion with fine art to create custom wearable pieces for clients under the name Zavala Bespoke. Picture a Louis Vuitton handbag transformed into a canvas for a surrealist painting, or a Valentino jacket that sports a work of art influenced by 17th-century motifs.

Lauren Zavala will offer complimentary customization on purchased bags at a Neiman Marcus pop-up on December 2 and 16. / Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Madison Trapkin

It’s all inspired by Zavala’s art-history background. “My education informs every stroke, every color, every pattern that I put on leather, fabric, or any other medium,” explains the artist, who has degrees from the University of Colorado and the University of Buckingham. Her pieces represent a variety of periods and styles, from the Baroque to the modern, and her Mexican heritage has inspired her to lean heavily into Mexican folk art as well.

Tapping into trends without being defined by them, Zavala especially loves working on whatever the “bag of the season” may be. One of her all-time favorite creations is a black Alexander McQueen tote inspired by Elizabeth I. “With every piece, I try to make it cohesive with the bag—the style of it, how it curves, and with the client as well,” she explains. In this case, that meant marrying traditional and modern iconography—think Tudor roses, a butterfly, and a skull. It was such a hit that it sparked an entire series, which will soon become the focus of a gallery showcase.

Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Madison Trapkin

As she prepares for that, Zavala is also looking to connect directly with her audience in other exciting ways—including with a pop-up at Neiman Marcus in Copley Place on December 2, where she’ll offer complimentary customization on purchased items, done in as little as 20 minutes, from a menu of flash designs and handbag monograms.

Just because it’ll be completed fast, though, doesn’t mean it’ll be any less special than her commissioned custom work. When asked how to summarize her philosophy in life and business, Zavala says: “Thoughtfulness above everything.”

Photo by Nina Gallant / Styling by Madison Trapkin

First published in the print edition of the November 2023 issue with the headline, “The Things You Carry.”