Meet Mansur Gavriel, the Anti–‘It’ Bag Designers

Photo: Mansur Gavriel

For the diehard aesthete, a well-crafted, beautiful bag made of the best leather that’s simple and available at a reasonable price is a unicorn of sorts. The dilemma was one that Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel sought to resolve, before working on their eponymous bag collection Mansur Gavriel. Their backgrounds as a textile designer who made forays into art direction and as a fashion designer at Lanvin prepared them for the challenge.  Their hallmark is simplicity. Their bags are devoid of excess hardware, pockets, grommets, studs, or bows, and are made of the highest-quality Italian vegetable leather, with interiors painted in striking complementary shades.

The end result is a range of bags that stand outside of the dizzying cycle of bag trends, with each handbag looking as great now as it will in ten years. Or so the logic goes. We think that they’re the best new bag for this fall (especially with Fashion Week happening now).

How did you guys meet?
Floriana Gavriel: I studied fashion design in Germany. I was working for designers and wanted to do my own thing in the long run. When we met, Rachel also was very interested in doing her own thing and we found out very quickly that we have very similar tastes. We met at the concert and then the next day, Rachel took me to the flower market, which was amazing because we’re both so obsessed with everything that is natural and has a simple beauty: flowers, leather, cashmere, cotton.
Rachel Mansur: At the contemporary price point, there were certainly nice bags, but there wasn’t a very simple and elegant bag. So we felt we could find simple bags, but perhaps they were too casual and other bags had too much hardware, too many details. We really admire clean, painted edges, beautiful stitching, snaps. We also really admire Italian leather, so we wanted something strong and beautiful, classic and elegant, and we felt we couldn’t find that for under $2,000 or even $1,500.

So how did you decide to break down that problem?
RM: We started with the fact that we like vegetable-tanned leather. We wanted to apply it in an elegant way. To us, the most important thing about the bag would be the leather quality. Everything else could be simple and it would be beautiful because we just want the leather to really shine.
FG: We found this kind of commonality with packaging and graphic design. In the beginning we admired other designers like Denis Colomb who makes these beautiful, high-quality cashmere scarves that are just about the cashmere and the color. Early on we found that this was really the strong, common thing between us and it made everything easy to collaborate.

And you guys consciously chose to do without studs, grommets, buckles, bows, etc.
RM: To me, it seems the world is divided. I think some people love that. They love hardware, they love bling. But then also there are so many women who are looking for something simple and can’t find it. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a bag that I’ve really loved, but of course I’ve never spent a lot of money on a bag. Perhaps if I could buy an Hermès bag I would be quite happy, but in the contemporary price point, I’ve personally had a really hard time finding something without hardware. So I think there are many people who are looking for that.
FG: Many people are excited about the bags. People that probably do like more hardware, when they see this they can relate to the shape or the color. They can pick a color they like.

So how did you guys tackle the problem of getting the materials, having samples made, etc.
RM: In this industry, you’ll meet one person and then you ask them a million questions and you get a few phone numbers, then you call those few phone numbers to three more people, you’ll ask them a million questions, and so on. You definitely have to persevere because it’s not easy; the manufacturing industry is kind of hidden. It’s not like there’s some website where you can go and find everything, but I think you can do it even if you don’t come from these huge companies. It’s just a scavenger hunt.

Before you  met, what were you two up to?
RM: I graduated from RISD in textiles and I moved to L.A. right after and thought maybe I was interested in art direction and TV and movies. I worked for several art directors doing very random things. TV, movies, photography. I had so many odd jobs. At one point I worked for a studio in L.A. that was dying dresses for Rodarte and TV shows. And then somehow, randomly, I ended up working for a start-up website and found I really liked it; [that’s] where I discovered that I was also interested in business.
FG: I studied fashion design in Germany, and lived in Berlin. Right after high school, I came here to intern at Anna Sui. I came from the north, a really small town, and then I moved to New York for a few months and that was my start in the fashion world. I love New York. I worked at Zac Posen. Before my studies and during, I started to work as a stylist for celebrities in Germany, and music videos and commercials. I’ve done that all the way through until today. After university, I went to Lanvin, to Paris, to work in the womenswear department. After being in all of those studios, seeing how people work, you really have this ambition to start something yourself, to try to understand how to approach this, how to do it.

And were you designing for a particular kind of woman?
RM: We definitely think about other women, especially through color. We have an image of all these different types of women and how each color fits them. The bucket is very much a fashion bag. It just looks very cool on many women. Even that silhouette, the black with flamma, kind of downtown cool. The brandy with no coating is softer and more casual.
FG: The cammello/azzurro is very summery, like a beach bag for a California person.

And you’re not concerned about keeping up with bag trends?
FG: I think this was basically how we try to live our lives. Being in this world where fashion has become so fast. I think it was just too much for me, being in the fashion industry. I don’t know how to deal with this, it’s just getting too crazy.
RM: We’re not interested in keeping up with trends, we just want to make something that will be beautiful now and beautiful in ten years. Those are the only kinds of products that we want to make.

Meet Mansur Gavriel, the Anti–‘It’ Bag Designers