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Inside Steven Alan

A Visit with Mansur Gavriel

  • We recently stopped by the studio of Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel, the design duo behind handbag line Mansur Gavriel. Now based in New York, the pair chatted with us about how they met, their minimal aesthetic, and what goes into making their beautifully crafted leather bags.

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    How did you meet, and how did you decide to start a business together?
    Rachel: We met in 2010 in Los Angeles at an XX concert. It turned out Floriana was staying with an acquaintance I had known at RISD. We hit it off and decided to hang out the next day. She was a tourist from Berlin, so I showed her the flower market in LA. We stayed in touch over the following year and grew to realize we were at a similar place. We both went to art school, we both liked the idea of doing something that combined commerce and design, and we were both at a place in our lives where we were ready to start something new. After a year of communicating long distance, I went to Berlin for two months to develop ideas for what we might want to do together, and then Floriana came to Los Angeles.

    How did it work with the two of you being so far apart?
    Rachel: We eventually decided to both move to New York to start the company in April of 2012.

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    It must have been great to finally come together and build it.
    Rachel: It was! It was interesting to bring together this European idea of elegance with this Los Angeles idea of casual simplicity. We liked the idea of something being very chic, but also versatile and easy to wear.

    Floriana: We wanted to make a product that would last, and that would wear in an interesting way over time. It was nice that we had all this time to think about it, and get more and more focused. We would put something on a shared Tumblr, and have maybe a month to think about it. It really helped us get to exactly where we want to be.

    It really shows in the line. It’s very focused, and a really impressive debut.
    Rachel: Thank you. We spent a long time figuring out what the essence of our inspiration was, and how it could translate into something incredibly simple.

    Was there any one source of inspiration that you always felt yourself coming back to?
    Rachel: We’re inspired by simple and beautiful materials in daily life, and the small details that make something feel special. Everything from elegant packaging to flowers to fruit to cashmere. The clarity of bright, pop colors contrasting with rich or delicate neutrals. This inspiration eventually resulted in how we approached designing the bags – starting with a beautiful material and letting the essence of that be the predominant design element.

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    Tell us about the leather and the design details. What did you feel was absolutely essential? The styles are deceptively simple at first glance, but the more one looks at them, it becomes obvious a lot of thought went into every detail.
    Floriana: For us, the quality of the product starts with the leather. We spent a great deal of time searching for the highest quality vegetable tanned leather, a leather that really glows. We eventually found the most beautiful option out there–sometimes vegetable tanned leather can look very masculine, but ours is very delicate in the way it’s tanned.

    Vegetable tanned leather gets more beautiful as it ages, which fits with our philosophy. It’s very special in that it builds up a patina from use, abrasions that fade and build, making the item more personal to you. We also wanted the leather quality to have the luxurious feel of a designer bag, but at a contemporary price point.

    Rachel: We love the contrast of natural leather with the sleek, chic patent. Patent leather is also a classical material, but it’s a different emotion from the natural vegetable tanned leather. In terms of the details, we felt that the most elegant concept that we could come up with would be very minimal in terms of how the stitching looked, and we also felt it was important to have a wallet, but we didn’t want to see a line of stitching at the top to attach it. So we developed the detachable wallet and we spent a lot of time obsessing over everything.

    Floriana: Really, like 1/16 of an inch!

    Rachel: We made many samples where we changed minor details. Just deciding the way the bottom should be stitched . . .

    Floriana: How far in the stitching should go, what the stitching size should be, the handle thickness . . . we really like to get it perfect, and we talk about the details forever.

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    It seems you stripped out anything unnecessary, or distracting in any way.
    Rachel: We knew from the beginning that we wanted zero to minimal hardware. Since I was a young teenager, I’ve been frustrated trying to find a bag with minimal hardware, so that was our starting point. Many people would say, “But it’s open, you have to have a zipper.” But it just is what it is – it’s an elegant, easy bag, and we don’t want to have a zipper. To us, of course, function is important, but it’s also this sculptural object. If you add a zipper, it changes that.

     How did you arrive at these particular color combinations?
    Rachel: They kind of represent three different emotions. Some are very happy, some are more subdued and sophisticated, and another category is a little more downtown – black and red, black and royal blue. We love the idea of there being something for everyone.

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    Do you have a favorite style that’s your go-to these days?
    Rachel: We love all three styles. When we began, I thought I would only use the large tote because I’m really practical and I beat up my bags a lot, but then Floriana started using the bucket and I thought, oh, I want a bucket!

    Floriana: Now we’re using the smaller tote, so it changes.

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    What have been some of your challenges through the process. You mentioned it was difficult to narrow things down, but what about from the business side of things?
    Rachel: I think in this business, manufacturing is tough. It’s hard when you have an idea in your head of what you want and it’s somewhat out of your hands when you develop that with a third party. You have to trust many people along the way – that everything comes out right, that it’s delivered on time, that there are no mistakes. It’s difficult to rely on so many people.

    What’s been the most rewarding thing about being in business for yourselves?
    Floriana: That we really love what we do.

    Rachel: And that we like each other! We’re always sort of amazed at how our tastes are very in tune. Sharing an aesthetic with someone can be quite hard, so to have your own business and build this image that you mutually find beautiful is a great thing. It’s incredible to have the opportunity to make something of your own after spending your life looking at other brand identities you admire – Prada, Hermes, and not just fashion brands, but many different types of products as well.

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    Having spent so much time developing the product, and now working so hard to build your business, what do you like to do to relax or unwind?
    [Both respond simultaneously]: Leave the city!

    Floriana: Rachel likes to go to Los Angeles.

    Rachel: My boyfriend lives half the time here and half the time in LA, so we’ll ship out this order and I’ll go to Los Angeles to unwind and Floriana will go to Italy to visit her mother.

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    Many thanks to Rachel and Floriana! You can find Mansur Gavriel bags at our Tribeca, Chelsea, Brooklyn, and Fillmore stores, and in our web shop.  Coming soon to Boston as well!

    This entry was posted on Monday, June 17th, 2013 at 6:22 pm and is filed under In Stock, New Arrivals. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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