LONDON — The pandemic has shaken up the handbag market, with many shoppers — who no longer need to carry a bag on a daily basis — using their extra time and income to make investment purchases.
With all-time classics by megabrands rising in popularity, the contemporary market is not as vibrant as it used to be — yet a few labels have been able to remain part of the conversation and keep customers interested.
Medea, the Italian label by twin sisters Camilla and Giulia Venturini, is one of them.
They’ve been attempting to create their own classics — and an entire creative universe around them, that’s all about attitude, artistic expression and left-field thinking.
The Venturini sisters were already fans of taking things slowly long before the pandemic, focusing on their chic leather tote style, which has been designed to resemble the humble paper shopping bag, and comes in an array of sizes and colors.
“If you want something to become iconic, you can’t really keep changing it. You have to really stick to it so it becomes more powerful,” said Giulia. “People didn’t always understand at the beginning. You sometimes have shops asking, ‘What’s new? What’s new?’ But we decided not to listen.”
The sisters are also using their bags as a canvas for fellow designers and artists to experiment with. Nan Goldin and Judith Bernstein, London-based designer Kiko Kostadinov and more recently Peter Do have all worked with the Venturini sisters to reimagine the classic Medea tote with artworks, psychedelic prints or, in Do’s case, a super-size silhouette and chic croc-embossed leather.
Lately, the sisters have been taking their commitment to slow, season-less fashion to a new level.
They’re offering new, color-block versions of their classic totes, patched together using leftover leather scraps from previous seasons.
“Every year there is a demand for new colors for the same object, so we tricked buyers into buying our old leather this way,” said Giulia, pointing to positive response from retail partners, which include Selfridges, LuisaViaRoma and Printemps, among others.
They have also been spending time researching the environmental effects of both real and eco-leather and have introduced a new shopper made from a non-toxic and metal-free leather.
“We did all this research and realized how bad the tanning process is for the environment, as is the process to produce eco-leather. This is a new kind of leather and because it’s metal-free it doesn’t release any chemicals during the tanning process,” said Camilla, adding that the offer of sustainable options is becoming wider across accessories factories.
“You have to be careful; 100 percent eco-leather can mean nothing. It’s the production process that really causes damage, so we are making it a big priority and we are sourcing everything in Italy,” she added.
To make their point clearer, the sisters joined forces with artist Chloé Maratta, who came up with the slogan “This Bag Breaks Down in Dirt” and printed it all over their Harlequin shopping bags.
Also in the range are new unisex coin purses and reworked iterations of the label’s soft leather Busted tote in chic croc-embossed colors.
They’re presented in a video that captures the punk, rebellious spirit that helped the label to stand out in the first place. The video features a cast of creative, eccentric characters playing the electric guitar, smashing ice or using the bags as workout props.
“We’re trying to build a strong narrative around the brand to support an object that we really believe in and we want to have around for a long time,” said Giulia.