-Margarita: Urania, how did you start designing plexiglas clutches?
-Urania: I started 3 ½ years ago. My dad and in general my family owns a company specializing in perspex constructions of any type and also brass and iron. In reality, he combines those three materials in big building constructions, boats etc. As an only child, someone had to continue the family business. However, this work is not easy, especially for women as it requires physical strength. That is why I was looking to find a way to bring the family business around my own skills [...] One day, out of the blue I asked from my father to make just for me a transparent, plexiglas bag. This first bag of mine was extremely heavy, very shiny and took countless hours to make so that it looks perfect. After that very first attempt, it took me 2 ½ years to make a market research on what it takes to start a similar business. The idea came to me after the encouragement of my friends and the questions I was getting about my perspex bag. When I discovered it would take a great capital investment to start my own business with perspex bags and especially the promotional aspect of it, I did back. I knew that the Greek market was not ready for my product and that there would be no interest. Not because of the cost and the retail price of my clutches, but because of the fact that Greek consumers are late followers. They weren't ready to adopt my designs at the time.
-Margarita: You mean they would not want to hold a purse like these...
-Urania: Exactly. It was the time, when every woman had to carry a Louis Vuitton bag.
-Margarita: Was it before the Bottega Veneta clutch rise?
-Urania: Yes, before. But then came Alexander McQueen with his clutches and turned them into the absolute 'must-have' piece in accessories and despite their retail price at 1,500 euro Greek consumers started to accept and adopt the trend..
Up to this day, I still cannot remember when was that I said ''Let's make 20 perspex clutches''. I speak the truth. The only thing I can remember is that after this starting point, I was lost for a long time in doing research on how to construct this unique and beautiful little clutch. Our first attempt was just two pieces of perspex, like little boxes that were closed together so that it can be call a 'bag'. By that point and on and always with the technical experience of my father -he holds the 'know-how' in this-I started designing my clutches. We created countless samples, we threw away so many pieces until finding the right materials to use, not perspex but buckles, screws, magnets not to mention the right packaging and even cloth bags to put them inside. This whole process took me almost a year; it was back in 2011. In 2012, I was finally ready to show my work and participate in an exhibition.
What I did first was to visit all the international exhibitions, in order to decide in person, which was the most appropriate for me. [...] That is how I decided that I wanted to participate either in «Première Classe» or in «Tranoï», which were the most well-known and highly respected exhibitions, almost exclusively for the 'Accessory design' sector. Imagine that the prices for a booth are extremely high. To put this under perspective imagine that a booth 2x2, which is like 4m2, costs approximately 4.000 euro. [...]
My first exhibition was in «Première Classe» and took place in February/March, 2012. It was really an experience, as I have not studied Fashion Design so that I know the so called 'fashion calendar'. I mean... Back then, I did not know that a year in fashion is divided in four seasons, two main and two pre (in reality the pre S/S collections are called Resort, whereas for F/W they are called Pre-Collections). Moreover, I did not know that there must be a specific concept behind it. So, here I was in the exhibition showing my perspex clutches in all different shades of the colour palette without knowing that the exhibitors were showing for Fall/Winter 2012. I showed up with 60 different clutches. (Laughs)
My very first exhibition could not have gone any worst. My name was misspelled, my booth was not in the ground floor... All the other exhibitors were showing green, olive and black and I was showing fluo colours. However, we had customers who told us that because of our bright colours they came up to the floor, they caught their attention. Otherwise, they would not have been bothered to visit.... In other words, an initial disaster came out as a total success. We received a great amount of orders!
I have to mention here a funny story. As you may remember, back in 2012 perspex was a huge trend and coincidentally during the same time with the exhibition, it happened for Hermès boutique in rue Faubourg to have its main window display full of Kelly bags made out of perspex. Therefore, visitors during the exhibition were constantly asking me ''Is that you, who made also the bags for Hermès''? (Laughs) It was a great coincidence indeed, which worked in my favour.
I participated again in «Première Classe», this time for the main season S/S 2013, but then I realized that it does not take only an exhibition. I needed to find an agent to support my brand.
So, I excluded from an infinite list Valery Demour. I had already sent a mail of my work in Valery from June and she had replied that she was really interested for my work. I never replied back not because I did not want to but because I was extremely busy with finishing orders [...] Finally, despite my late answer and the fact that she could easily say no after that long, we talked in December and collaborate ever since. She is in charge of my wholesale and we are also working on my advertising plan, which requires though a great amount of money. [...]
-Μargarita: Who else is designing perspex clutches?
-Urania: There is Eddie Parker, Charlotte Olympia and then me. We are three in the whole world. I am the least famous but I sell internationally. With time though, only my clutches can be called 'clutch bags'. According to my design process I mean, only mine is what we call a bag. [...]
-Μargarita: Are your clutches hand-made?
-Urania: They are 100 % hand-made. It takes 12 working hours for just one clutch to get made and everything is done by hand. Most of the materials used come from abroad, either Italy or Germany.
-Margarita: That is why they cost so much, right?
-Urania: Imagine that it costs approximately 6,000 to 8,000 euro to make a mould, just like the ones Charlotte Olympia uses in her designs. In case, you want as a designer to make for example four different designs and with a minimum cost let's say 6,000 euro then only the moulds wold cost you 24,000 euro. You understand thus, how strong financial background there is behind the brand Charlotte Olympia. With this in mind, I can only be measured with Eddie Parker, who cannot reach this level nor will ever do.
-Μargarita: Where do you sell well?
-Urania: I sell really well in Dubai. [...] Other good markets for my designs are Thailand, Tokyo whereas in China it is difficult to sell because it requires a great deal of publicity and celebrity endorsement. This means a lot for Chinese. My summer collection is going to be in four different stores this season in Russia, some of the most prestigious there, an order I got through my agent Valery Demour.
-Margarita: What is your brand identity, your customer and to what type of woman are you addressed?
-Urania: Certainly, my bags are very limited. That is why my target group is equally small due to their retail price. This determines everything. Thre is nothing automated in the whole construction process. I could even number each bag, that's how small of a production is. I cannot tell you I have a specific woman in mind when designing my bags, it does not work this way with accessories in my opinion. My clutches, I believe can be worn by any woman. There is no 'age' limit to my eyes.
-Margarita: Then you should maybe divide your collections to 'classic' and 'fashion'?
-Urania: As I explained you earlier I did not start designing by having in mind ''Oh! I am going to put black because it is a winter collection, I am putting red because it is summer''. I know it is right to have since the beginning a strong brand identity, but there is no team behind this and there are certain things that are not yet perfected. This is what we are trying to do now with my agent. Enough with experimenting!
-Μargarita: You mean that you have conquered the 'know-how' and you are focusing on building a strong brand identity?
-Urania: Exactly. From now on, I have to find a way to make money without further experimentation with other materials. The cards, the leopard are two examples for this... On the other hand, perspex as a material constrains you a lot in terms of creativity. Not evrything can be done. For example, I cannot design a forest, as it has to be made piece by piece. My only problem is that I do not have a strong team behind me and I have to do everything.
-Μargarita: Therefore, building a design team is also among your immediate plans for the future?
-Urania: I personally do not see the whole trend with perspex clutches to last more than one, maximum two years more.
-Μargarita: Why is that?
-Urania: Think from yourself. How many perspex clutch bags would you buy? That is why I am going to enrich my product range in time.
-Μargarita: Great question! Where do you see you brand in the future?
-Urania: Jewellery. Also furniture, but do not imagine anything 'heavy'... Tables; office desks; vases. They have done a comeback, but it does not matter [...]
This is something though I am thinking for later on... Because who am I kidding? Perspex clutch bags are not going to earn me money in ten years' time. A factory cannot survive financially with just two or four collections per year. Not even with six. The expenses are great.
-Μargarita: What do you suggest for next season as Urania Gazelli?
-Urania: Lots of colour, fluos, but not the transparent ones. The ones with white base. My collections are divided in three different lines. White, transparent and black. For summer, we launch designs made out of white and transparent perspex and from there we go for covers in intense, summer colours. Trucks are not yet out of fashion; it depends whether someone got bored out of it or not. Leopard is another 'hot' trend for summer as suggested by popular brands such as Stella McCartney.
-Margarita: We saw also clutch-cards in you collection.
-Urania: Those are a more limited edition. I had a very particular concept in mind and despite the fact that my agent thought that I should not show them in any way, I got a great number of orders. Dozens...
-Μargarita: Where can someone buy your clutches?