By Booth Moore Los Angeles Times.
Never mind the Fendi 2Jours, Givenchy Antigona and Saint Laurent Sac de Jour. One of the fall season's hardest-to-get handbags tops out at less than four figures. Much less.
With sleek bucket bags, totes and backpacks priced from $460 to $950, Mansur Gavriel is targeting women who want low-key luxe and value without overt logos or labeling. And it's working.
Since launching in April 2012, the anti-"it" bags have spawned waiting lists, sold-out notifications and insane EBay markups.
The brand was founded by Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel, two friends who met in 2010 at an xx concert in Los Angeles.
"I had never owned a designer bag," says Mansur. "Even as a young teenager, I wondered why there wasn't a bag for me that I wouldn't be embarrassed of because I spent $1,000 or $2,000 on it."
Both women had backgrounds in design. Gavriel had worked as a designer for Lanvin in Paris. And Mansur studied textile design at Rhode Island School of Design before starting work at an Internet startup in L.A. They bonded over an early-morning trip to the Flower Mart in downtown L.A.
"We just clicked. We had something aesthetically in common," said Gavriel during a visit to the label's New York showroom.
Soon, a business idea was hatched.
"We liked the idea of working in a template that was iconic, whether that was a bag or a trench coat, and expressing emotion through material quality and color," says Mansur.
They decided to launch a handbag line with two simple styles, a bucket bag and tote, both of which have a spare, Minimalist appeal not unlike designer Bonnie Cashin's original designs for Coach in the 1960s.
The initial concept for Mansur Gavriel was influenced by the L.A. lifestyle, they say. "We wanted a certain ease and liked the idea of lifestyle being inspired by nature in its purest form," says Mansur. "It was about putting material quality before everything else."
The starting point was a natural-looking, vegetable-tanned leather. "It builds up this surface and texture as you use it and kind of ages with you," Mansur says. "We just fell in love with it."
After spending several months developing samples, they moved to New York to open the business. The bags are made in Italy.
Initial styles came in a blanched "camello" natural brown hue or in black, with a contrasting color patent-leather interior coating.
They have since added white, powder pink, red, royal and navy blue bags, and expanded the interior colors to include metallic silver, gold and pewter, and brights such as vivid orange, royal blue and pink.
There is no recognizable branding on the bags, save for the name "Mansur Gavriel" written in discreet, tiny gold lettering at the bottom of one side.
"A lot of our decisions are based on squeezing as much quality out of an accessible price point as we can," says Mansur. "We don't have a lining or hardware. Those things add up," Gavriel adds.
The first retailer to pick up the collection was Steven Alan, and L.A.'s Jenni Kayne boutiques followed soon after. Now, Mansur Gavriel is also sold at Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Net-a-Porter.
And for fall, they've introduced their first backpack, as well as a mini bucket bag.
Their biggest problem is satisfying demand. "We feel bad when people are frustrated. But the truth is, it's growing faster than we can keep up," says Mansur. "Our production capacity is increasing, but we don't want to go overboard."
The two partners started e-commerce sales on their website in August, and already many of the styles, including the popular black bucket with red interior, are sold out until December.
"They may look simple, but they take 40 steps to make, so they have to be made with a lot of care and time," says Gavriel.
In the future, they envision the Mansur Gavriel world growing.
"We definitely want to add other products," says Mansur. "We're reluctant to say what, because the sampling process is so important, and it took us two years to develop the bags. But we want to build a world where we offer many different things, perfected. I hate to say 'back to basics' because that's so on trend right now, but it's true."