Inspiring Women: Rachel Mansur And Floriana Gavriel Transformed The Accessories Industry One Bag At A Time

by Freya Drohan
mansur gavriel

Women’s History Month might have ended, but why should we stop shining a well-deserved spotlight on those who never cease to amaze and inspire us? Next up in our series are Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel, the art school graduates behind Mansur Gavriel. A runaway success from the beginning, the award-winning accessories brand truly changed the industry from the moment it launched with THAT bucket bag in 2012. Ever on-trend, MG just launched its first baguette style this week too (all you aughts-era SATC fans can rejoice!). The new triangular-shaped Pencil Case bag, in hues of yellow, sky blue, lime, and more, introduces a new high shine, high quality leather for the brand too. To coincide with the launch, The Daily checked in with the founders to hear about their chance meeting and how they built the company into what it has become today.

How did you meet?
Rachel Mansur: We met in 2010 at a The xx concert in Los Angeles. We were strangers, in our mid twenties and had similar interests and backgrounds. We both had studied at art schools (myself in the U.S., Floriana in Europe), and were interested in many different disciplines—photography, fashion, painting, graphic design, textiles. We connected right away and met at the Los Angeles Flower Market the next morning. Floriana was living in Berlin at the time, and visiting.

You both have art backgrounds, tell us a little more about that.
Rachel: I went to RISD and studied textiles. I also spent time on printmaking, painting, and filmmaking. When I left school, I thought I wanted to be an artist or production designer. I had never considered fashion, but when I met Floriana the pieces easily came together. By creating a brand, we were able to work across different several different mediums; from creating product to brand photography and graphics. Through this visual storytelling we were able to create a detailed, thoughtful world. I soon realized it brought together everything I was interested in.

Floriana Gavriel: I went to the University of the Arts Bremen, Germany, where I studied Interdisciplinary Design. This way I realized it was not purely fashion or graphic design that I was interested in, but also photography and storytelling. I then traveled the world not knowing exactly how to put everything together. I liked the idea of launching a brand, but didn’t like the idea of fast fashion. When I met Rachel, we had a magical connection of understanding of product, fashion, photography, packaging…we then decided to start MG and launch handbags with beautiful vegetable tanned leather.

What do you remember from the early days when you were still dreaming up the brand?
Floriana: It was so fun! We thought about so many products. We always had a specific world in mind—the combination of aesthetics and brand values. But we liked the idea of creating many different products. We thought about clothing, shoes, and bags, and then decided to go into bags. We thought there was a big opportunity in the market at the time. Most handbag choices were either designer or fast fashion. The contemporary priced options weren’t very interesting or qualitative.

 

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You launched with the idea of an “anti it bag”… which we know, of course, became a runaway hit.
Rachel: The quality was beautiful, and the price was accessible considering the elevated leather and Italian make. We also launched with a very innovative material: an elegant, elevated vegetable-tanned leather, tanned in Italy, bonded with an interior matte patent leather. The result was a very modern, clean, lightweight bag that had a nostalgic feel as well. The inside was sleek, the details were clean, and the exterior was a warm, natural leather that darkened in the sun and developed a patina with use. The aesthetic felt very special and fresh. There wasn’t anything like it on the market at that time.

What do you think piqued people’s interest and imagination about the brand from day one?
Floriana: The quality, the imagery, the color, the material—a lot of elements came together in the right way. It felt original.

How has the offering expanded since 2012, and what values have remained the same?
Rachel: We have experimented with more whimsical shapes since the brand has expanded, while staying true to our tenants of quality, minimalism, emotional color, and beautiful materials. We keep a solid core offering of classic shapes, as well as more emotional or timely shapes.

 

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Did you know the brand would be a global success, or has the journey taken you by surprise?
Floriana: We were very strategic when entering the market, but of course were also very surprised when it took off so quickly!

How did it feel to win the CFDA award?
Rachel: It was very exciting, and a great honor to be recognized by the New York fashion community.

You’re known for your ads, what’s the process like conceptualizing a new campaign?
Rachel: We both love image making. We love putting elements together to create an emotion, to tell stories, to portray our product as design objects. We love collaborating with photographers, and we also love to shoot ourselves.

Floriana: When approaching a new campaign we are very intuitive. We look to art references often, we are always first and foremost inspired by the product in our approach. Color is important, casting is also quite important to us—we have a specific idea of the kind of models that fit the brand. We like natural and diverse, and we don’t like models to overly pose.

 

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What’s the backstory to each Mansur Gavriel piece—what do we need to know?
Rachel: It’s a collaborative process. We are very close and always work on the creative together. We often balance each other in a very nuanced way. Overall, we have a lot of aesthetic in common. As the brand has grown, so has our friendship. We are like sisters and it’s so nice to see the products grow and develop as our communication becomes stronger as well.

What are you most proud of to date?
Floriana: We love the beautiful world and experience we have built: the way the products fit into our stores, installations, and the emotional mood we present on instagram and brand imagery. We love the product, and it is truly something we use everyday, and have used for the past decade.

You have a long, long list of celebrity fans! Are there any memorable “pinch me” moments when you saw a particular star in Mansur Gavriel?
Rachel: Our first celebrity to wear the bag was Kirsten Dunst back in 2013. We were very excited at the time! In the years following there have been many strong, beautiful, interesting women to wear Mansur Gavriel: Sienna Miller, Naomi Watts, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mindy Kaling, Solange, Gigi Hadid, Reese Witherspoon, Karlie Kloss, Busy Phillips, and more.

 

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From initial idea to launch, how long does it take to bring a new product to market?
Floriana: We start developing a new concept for a bag a year in advance—though some ideas we have been playing with for several years prior.

What’s on the agenda for 2021?
Rachel: We’re very excited to continue to develop the brand, building out the MG world to continually make it more beautiful and interesting. We are also very excited to explore new retail concepts in a post-COVID world.

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