Marina Raphael is sixth generation of the Swarovski family and was only 20 years old when she launched her own handbag line in 2019. Having majored in Business Management at 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 is the collaboration process like? And often you work with people who are well-known on social media… how does social media help what you do as a brand? It is very important for me to partner with people who share a common creative vision and work ethic. I am constantly fascinated by all the different elements of art and design, and it is exciting to be able to collaborate with incredibly talented individuals whose unique aesthetic brings something new to my brand.
During the pandemic, a lot of luxury brands redirected their focus to social media to promote their upcoming collections. For us, it was a great opportunity to showcase our latest collaborations, but also to connect with our audience, reach out to buyers, and grow our online presence. Working closely with these amazing influencers, I had the opportunity to gain insight into what type of content and imagery has the highest engagement.
You have a real focus on sustainability—tell me about how that relates to the materials you source and your overall design process? I personally believe that sustainable fashion is the future. With that in mind, sustainability has always been a core value at Marina Raphael, and this is why we continuously strive to refine all processes and adhere to modern eco-friendly standards. From the very beginning, we have aimed for a near-0-waste policy—upcycling, recycling materials, and consciously tanning small quantities of leather, while constantly searching for creative ways to reduce our carbon footprint. Additionally, it is our mission to create products that withstand the test of time and can be passed down through generations.
I read an interview where you talked about a desire to create bags that are practical, versatile and easy to wear with any outfit—that sounds like a challenge! How do you go about achieving that? Where do you begin? We value practicality as much as we do style. When designing a collection I opt for eye-catching style, clean silhouettes, and innovative materials, while focusing primarily on the functionality and purpose of the bag. No matter the season, we always create bags that are spacious enough to fit all the essentials. And many of our styles translate effortlessly from a chic day look to a glamorous evening out. Lastly, most of our bags can be worn in a variety of ways, such as a crossbody, over the shoulder, or even as a belt bag.
I read another interview where you described your first 10 bags as a “disaster”—why? What happened and what did that teach you? Thinking back to my older collections, it always fills me with a deep feeling of nostalgia! When I was working on my first-ever prototypes, I was quite young and had just started my creative journey, so I had yet to establish 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 new innovative materials, which I then implemented into my design process. One of my priorities was also to learn Italian, so that I could communicate better with potential suppliers, buyers, and the local communities working to bring our vision to life.
You’ve said: “Sometimes people look down on me because I am very young and I did happen to come from a background that has supported me”—now that you’ve put together multiple collections and the business is such a success is that attitude starting to wane or do you still encounter resistance?Being a young designer is certainly very challenging, as in a way you’re competing not only with other new and unique brands, but also with well-established fashion houses. I was just 20 years-old when I started out, so one of the biggest challenges was simply convincing retailers and press of my professionalism.
Regarding my family background, Swarovski has undoubtedly influenced my work and brand philosophy, and I’m grateful for all the values they have instilled in me. Nevertheless, while being a young designer might be seen as a disadvantage in some circles, I’ve always found it to be an advantage. I have a longer runway for success, as building my brand is my primary focus, and I am eager to continue learning, and I can easily adapt.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? A piece of advice that I actually found quite helpful when I launched my own brand was to stay driven, passionate and true to your brand’s core values. It is very easy to get carried away or daunted by criticism. Being persistent, clearheaded and hardworking is the key to accomplishing all your goals and future aspirations!
What would I find in your handbag right now? Now that most meetings and appointments are done via Zoom, I no longer need to carry as many things in my day-to-day bag. When I am heading to the office I usually opt for the Micro Riviera in raffia, and carry my wallet, my phone, my airpods, a hydrating lip balm and a scented hand-sanitizer. And I always have a phone charger because I never fail to run out of battery by noon!
You chose handbags because “no matter what age you are, you can always wear a bag.”—which I love—do you think you will expand the brand to include additional products and accessories overtime? My mission has been, and always will be, to empower people through my work, eschewing stereotypes and giving everyone the chance to embrace their inner sparkle. Growing my product line gradually has been a goal of mine since I launched the brand, and so it is definitely on my agenda. Next spring, for example, we are launching our own line of custom makeup pouches, all made with the same exacting quality. Another exciting addition is a forthcoming range of premium leather cardholders in a variety of modern color combinations.
You pay homage to your background—incorporating crystals into your design—why was that 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 background, and that is why I choose to include Swarovski crystals in most of my designs. From glamorous bags adorned with crystals all around to the most subtle details of adding an embellished zipper, I love finding new ways to honor my heritage.