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- Fashion designer
LONDON — It’s come full circle for handbag designer Marina Raphael, who has just debuted a capsule collection of crystal evening bags with Swarovski.
Raphael is a sixth-generation Swarovski but she’s been spending the last few years building her own namesake label of luxury leather handbags from her home of Athens, Greece.
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She’s already achieved a lot, with sustainable capsule collections for Italian retailer LuisaViaRoma; soaring online sales during the last year of lockdown; and a sell-out collaboration with influencer Evangelie Smyrniotaki, which has made its way onto everyone from Chiara Ferragni to supermodel Izabel Goulart and Ashley Benson.
Sparkle and high-glamour embellishments have always made their way onto Raphael’s designs, but now she’s taking things to a whole new level, joining forces with Swarovski’s new creative director Giovanna Engelbert and designing her most technically challenging bags to date, entirely made out of crystal.
“We’ve been working together with Giovanna for over a year. It’s been an extremely long process to perfect the bag and make it the coolest, one-of-a-kind accessory,” said Raphael.
Over multiple Zoom calls the duo created three styles: A crystal baguette-style bag; a mini tote bag dubbed the “Somnia” and featuring over 88 interloping crystal ringlets; and an evening “Lucen” clutch cut in the shape of a perfectly cut giant emerald crystal and designed to refract light from every angle.
Courtesy of Marina Raphael/Swarovski
Prices range from 1,500 to 2,500 euros.
“We had this idea of women holding a giant gem instead of a bag. It’s something fresh, while also going back to the core crystal business of Swarovski and turning that signature material into the hero of the collection,” added the designer, whose team handled the entire production process.
“It was one of our most challenging projects to date, in terms of the technical elements of the production. Given the translucent nature of the crystal, it meant everything had to be seamless: there was no stitching and nothing could be hidden under a fabric. It needed to be crafted to perfection.”
Engelbert, who often wore Marina Raphael bags in the past, has been in the process of revamping Swarovski with futuristic campaigns featuring fashion heavyweights like Adwoa Aboah, refreshed retail concepts and new chunky jewelry designs.
The bags are part of Engelbert’s second collection for the company and part of her mission to “grow the crystal lifestyle” in new ways. They also feature in her latest campaign, starring Lourdes Leon.
“Giovanna is a real force of nature: so creative, energetic and fun. She respected me as a professional, understood the quality I strive for in my bags and didn’t see me as just a young designer,” said Raphael, adding that she’s fully behind the new direction Engelbert has been pushing Swarovski and the way she blends a modern perspective with the company’s crystal heritage.
Collaboration, although much of a buzzword in the last year, has always been a key part of the young brand’s success formula, with Raphael seeing this kind of tie-ins as marketing exercises as much as learning experiences for herself.
Courtesy of Marina Raphael/Swarovski
Her blockbuster collaboration with Smyrniotaki, best known as Style Heroine on Instagram, gave her new insights into digital communication and art direction, while a more recent collaboration with sustainability and fashion influencer Doina Ciobanu was all about creating the most sustainable bag there is, without compromising the fashion factor.
“These projects help you move forward creatively and open you up to different audiences and opinions. As a young brand you have so much more to learn whether it’s technical knowledge, design or material research. For example, my first vegan bag with Doina opened my eyes even more to sustainability and options of materials we have,” said the designer, pointing to her use of recycled cotton and leather made out of the residuals from the industrial processing of apples.
Next up for Raphael is a new iteration of the popular “Evangelie” bag; a new collection of small leather goods to help diversify her pricing range; and facilitating orders for the 20 new retail partners the brand has taken on for the upcoming spring season.
Courtesy of Apostolos Koukousas