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Published: Thursday, 9/16/2004

Shimmer for the stars: Ohio native's shiny creations have become hot accessories on Hollywood's red carpet

BY RHONDA B. SEWELL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kate Baumann Kate Baumann
HO Enlarge

What woman doesn't love a little sparkle in her life?

Jennifer Aniston, Kim Cattrall, Carmen Electra, Sharon Stone, Kim Basinger, and Paula Abdul certainly do. And they all carry Kathrine Baumann's designs.

The former actress and Miss America first runner-up in 1970 grew up in Independence, Ohio, about seven miles south of Cleveland. She's now the designer and manufacturer of haute-couture bejeweled minaudieres and women's accessories who turned a $134 unemployment check into a thriving $2.4 million fashion company.

Minaudiere (pronounced min-ode-ee-air) is a small rigid metal evening bag used to hold cosmetics; it is made in oval, oblong, or square shapes and can be carried in hand or by a short chain. Decorated with engraved designs or set with jewels, this expensive jeweler's product was popularized by Cartier in New York.

Ms. Baumann's collections are complete with whimsical handbags, fashion jewelry, pillboxes, atomizers, belt buckles and straps, lipstick and brush cases, and, most recently, sparkling cell phones.

Somewhere the late Andy Warhol is smiling on her jeweled evening bags in shapes including animals, flowers, and eggs.

The late commercial and pop artist gained fame in the 1960s for appropriating images from popular culture. Warhol created many paintings that remain icons of 20th-century art, such as the Campbell's Soup can and Marilyn Monroe screenprints.

Ms. Baumann has designed purses in the likenesses of Coca-Cola bottles, Betty Boop, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Campbell's Soup cans, Jim Henson's Muppets, and many more.

"These creations are my babies. They bring smiles to people's faces," Ms. Baumann said in a phone interview while in New York City. She lives in Beverly Hills, Calif., where her business is based.

The enthusiastic former Bowling Green State University student is to arrive in Toledo today for a host of appearances.

Tomorrow, she will address BGSU fashion and merchandising students and faculty, and Saturday she is scheduled to appear at a charity breakfast and at Harold Jaffe Jewelers.

She credits her childhood and college years in Ohio with giving her the creativity and the belief that she could be successful.

"In Independence I was the eldest of four children and I learned a very good work ethic from my father, who owned a demolition company, and my mother, who went to school and worked as a florist.

"But, I just wanted to be Miss America and I almost got it. I always tell people to set goals for yourself that perhaps seem unattainable. You may come close, and it's better than setting no goal at all and always wondering 'what if,'●" said Ms. Baumann.

She's now in the same league as well-known handbag and accessory designers such as Judith Leiber and Vivian Alexander, but Ms. Baumann's climb began with an accident that put the brakes on a thriving 15-year acting career.

"I fell into a plate glass window and had to get 272 stitches in one leg and three surgeries .●.●. Nobody would hire me because they were afraid that I would trip and fall on the set.

"I was literally staring out of my window, down on my luck, and said to myself, 'I could be a bag lady,'●" recalled Ms. Baumann, thinking that she might end up homeless. "That's when it hit me. I always liked things that would sparkle, so I started to embellish shirts and jackets with crystals. It just developed into the purses. I literally redefined the definition of whimsy."

Before her accident, Ms. Baumann had taken film and acting courses at the University of California at Los Angeles and Oxford University in England, and trained under actress Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched).

During her acting career she appeared as a guest on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, and on TV shows including M*A*S*H*, The Fall Guy, Trapper John, M.D., The Dukes of Hazzard, and Fantasy Island.

If her fall through a plate glass window was not enough, Ms. Baumann said she got a job as New York Seltzer's national sales director, then was broadsided in her car by someone who ran a red light.

"That's when I said, 'OK, enough!' That's when I decided to really start my business .●.●. Ivana Trump was my first customer," said Ms. Baumann, who in 1988 launched K. Baumann Design, now known as Kathrine Baumann Beverly Hills.

Her custom jackets and signature chaps, designed with crystals, lace, ribbons, satin, or other accessories, have been worn by Madonna, Travis Tritt, Jane Fonda, Barbara Mandrel, Cher, and Tanya Tucker.

Today, her designs are priced from $50 to $3,000. Her one-of-a-kind pieces, such as her miniature replica of the Titanic, is priced at $30,000, and is adorned with more than 15,000 Swarovski crystals.

Many actresses who attend the 56th annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday night in Los Angeles are expected to be seen carrying Ms. Baumann's designs.

Said Ms. Baumann: "It is important that my work makes a statement, appeals to the young at heart, and brings a smile to your face."

Contact: Rhonda B. Sewell at: rsewell@theblade.com

or 419-724-6101.



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