The designer of luxury leather handbag label Yu Mei is “gutted” after a thief broke into her studio and stole 70 bags.

The burglary was a few floors above Yu Mei’s flagship store on Wellington’s Victoria St on the morning of January 4, when designer Jessie Wong was on holiday.

“It’s obviously a bit of a blow and not the best way to start the New Year,” Wong told the Herald.

She said the thief “cleared out as much as they could in one go”. Among the 70 missing handbags are three irreplaceable ones, which were created as part of a special collaboration to celebrate Matariki.

The full retail value of the stolen goods would be close to $50,000, Wong estimated.

A police spokesperson said inquiries into the burglary were ongoing and at this stage no charges have been laid.

“We ask that members of the public remain wary of high-end handbags potentially being sold online following the burglary.”

Wong thought the culprit must have scoped out the building ahead of time to plan the break-in.

She said they entered the fourth floor of the building and got through the locked door to the studio likely with some sort of metal object.

“We can hear someone forcibly opening the door on the camera system, and then hear something that sounds like metal falling on the ground.”

The thief then disabled the camera system by pulling out the connecting cables, Wong said.

Boxes of stock were taken and wheeled out on a trolley already in the studio. None of the handbags have been seen since.

Wong is most upset about losing the three created through a Māori-led Matariki kaupapa, titled Whānau Mārama (Celestial Bodies).

Wong worked with artist Nikau Hindin on the bags.

“These bags were a true labour of love and Nikau and I would just really love to see them returned, even if it’s anonymous,” Wong said.

“The bags were one of my most proud moments at Yu Mei last year. It was just a special thing, we just can’t do it again or make another copy.”

Hindin was devastated.

She has lost track of how many hours were spent painting the bags over several weeks.

“They’re really special pieces. It’s kind of unimaginable they were taken and we don’t have them anymore, because it was a significant project for both of us.

“I wish that they come back.”

Wong has since beefed up security at the studio.

Police asked anyone who saw such handbags for sale, or has any information that could assist them with inquiries, to get in touch via 105 and quote file number 220104/7961.

Information can also be provided anonymously via Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.

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