Living in the Philippines, where her Austrian diplomat dad was posted, Devi Kroell got her first pair of red snakeskin sandals at age 6. Though they weren’t unusual there, Kroell says, “I slept with them on the first night, I loved them so much.” Her love hasn’t waned. “Anything that has a skin can be made into a handbag,” says Kroell, whose metallic and brightly colored work in python, ostrich leg and bull’s belly won her a 2006 Council of Fashion Designers of America award, as well as fans like Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lindsay Lohan.
“Hers are such standout pieces that everything else [you wear] can be simple,” says star stylist Rachel Zoe. Naturally they come at standout prices: from $590 for python sandals to $11,800 for a silver fox sleeveless coat from her fall line. Launched in 2004, her New York-based label got a bump from Newlyweds when Jessica Simpson toted a Kroell hobo bag. This May she opened a boutique in East Hampton, N.Y. One setback: Selling python is illegal in California. (She added anaconda and Japanese water snake.) While animal-welfare groups may find her collection abhorrent, Kroell, 30, counters that “synthetic materials pollute the planet.” And her bottom-line reason for going exotic? She offered less expensive bags in leather but “nobody was interested. They want the übermaterials—that’s what they expect of me.”