Marina Raphael traveled to Florence and learned Italian to launch her eponymous brand
Marina Raphael is the sixth generation of the Swarovski family and was just 20 when she launched her own line of handbags in 2019. A graduate in business management from King’s College London, she has since created an enviable brand, founded on the principles of craftsmanship, quality and elegant design.
You’ve done a handful of brand collaborations – Doina Ciobanu and Alex Rivière, for example – how do you choose who to work with and what does the collaboration process look like? And often you work with well-known people on social media… how does social media help you with what you do as a brand? It is very important to me to associate myself with people who share a common creative vision and work ethic. I’m constantly fascinated by all the different elements of art and design, and it’s exciting to be able to collaborate with incredibly talented people whose unique aesthetics bring something new to my brand.
During the pandemic, many luxury brands have taken to social media to promote their upcoming collections. For us, it was a great opportunity to present our latest collaborations, but also to connect with our audience, reach buyers and grow our online presence. By working closely with these amazing influencers, I had the opportunity to better understand what type of content and images get the most engagement.
You really focus on sustainability. Tell me about how this relates to the materials you source and your overall design process? I personally believe that sustainable fashion is the future. With this in mind, sustainability has always been a core value at Marina Raphael, and that is why we continually strive to refine all processes and meet modern ecological standards. From the very beginning, we have aimed for a near-zero waste policy: upcycling, recycling materials and consciously tanning small amounts of leather, while constantly looking for creative ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Additionally, our mission is to create products that stand the test of time and can be passed down from generation to generation.
I read an interview where you talked about a desire to create bags that are practical, versatile and easy to wear with any outfit, sounds like a challenge! How do you achieve this? Where to start ? We value practicality as much as style. When designing a collection, I opt for eye-catching styling, clean silhouettes and innovative materials, while primarily focusing on the functionality and purpose of the bag. Whatever the season, we always create bags spacious enough to hold all the essentials. And many of our styles translate effortlessly from a chic daytime look to a glamorous night out. Finally, most of our bags can be worn in different ways, such as crossbody, shoulder bag or even as a belt bag.
I read another interview in which you described your first 10 bags as a “disaster” – why? What happened and what did you learn from it? Thinking back to my past collections always fills me with a deep sense of nostalgia! When I was working on my very first prototypes, I was quite young and had just started my creative journey. I had therefore not yet established my identity as a designer and entrepreneur. It took me almost a year to perfect my first bags, and I kept working until I felt happy and confident with the result.
I visited our factory in Florence, learned a lot about traditional craftsmanship and discovered innovative new materials, which I then incorporated into my design process. One of my priorities was also to learn Italian, in order to better communicate with potential suppliers, buyers and local communities working to bring our vision to life.
You said, “Sometimes people look down on me because I’m very young and I come from a supportive background” – now that you’ve put together several collections and the business is such a success, it is your attitude starting to fade or are you still encountering resistance?Being a young designer is certainly very difficult, because in a way you are competing not only with other new and unique brands, but also with established fashion houses. I was only 20 when I started, so one of the biggest challenges was simply convincing retailers and the press of my professionalism.
Regarding my family background, Swarovski has undoubtedly influenced my work and brand philosophy, and I am grateful for all the values they instilled in me. Nevertheless, although being a young designer might be seen as a disadvantage in some circles, I have always found it to be an advantage. I have a longer track to success as building my brand is my primary focus, and I am eager to continue learning and can easily adapt.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? One piece of advice that I found very helpful when launching my own brand was to stay motivated, passionate, and true to your brand’s core values. It is very easy to get carried away or be intimidated by criticism. Being persistent, lucid and hardworking is the key to achieving all your future goals and aspirations!
What would I find in your purse right now? Now that most meetings and appointments are done via Zoom, I don’t need to carry so many things in my bag on a daily basis. When I go to the office, I usually opt for the raffia Micro Riviera, and I take my wallet, phone, airpods, moisturizing lip balm and scented hand sanitizer with me. And I always have a phone charger because I never run out of battery at noon!
You chose handbags because “no matter how old you are, you can still carry a bag.” – which I love – do you think you will expand the brand to include additional products and accessories over time? My mission has been, and always will be, to empower people through my work, avoiding stereotypes and giving everyone the chance to embrace their inner spark. Gradually developing my product range has been one of my goals since I launched the brand, so it’s definitely on my agenda. Next spring, for example, we are launching our own range of personalized make-up bags, all made with the same exacting quality. Another exciting addition is an upcoming range of premium leather card holders in a variety of modern color combinations.
You pay homage to your journey by incorporating crystals into your design. Why was this important to you? I have always felt honored to come from a family with over 120 years of innovation, creativity, attention to detail and craftsmanship. Inspired by all the strong and driven women in my family, I wanted to pay homage to my past, which is why I chose to include Swarovski crystals in most of my designs. From glamorous bags adorned with crystals all around to the subtler details of adding an embellished zipper, I love finding new ways to honor my heritage.