Europe, Asia, & America. Luxury with Exceptional Art on Each Bag
Marcelo Calabrese is not your typical designer. His bags were featured at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles last year, and when asked to describe his collection in two words, his response was “classy and crazy.” One look at Calabrese’s Art Deco-inspired accessories—structured pieces with a touch of whimsy—and it becomes apparent that they’re anything but cookie-cutter. On the contrary: Calabrese’s collection is entirely handmade, and details are altered slightly so that no two pieces are exactly alike. It’s “slow fashion,” as he calls it, and it comes from the belief that his designs should reflect the unique character of the person wearing it.
Born in Argentina, Calabrese first wanted to study architecture, but realized his affinity for fashion when he discovered a clothing store in Buenos Aires and began selling their designs as a representative for his city. From there, he started his own clothing company and traveled throughout Europe and Asia, finding inspiration from every culture he encountered. He then studied design at FIT in New York, where he lived for ten years. He worked with stores like Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys, and fell in love with the city, fascinated with New Yorkers and their love for European clothing.
Calabrese’s fashion philosophy is simple: Each person is unique, and what they wear should complement who they are. He believes that his pieces gain additional value when paired with the right owner. “I love to know who is going to use my bag,” he says. For Calabrese, fashion is about more than wearing trendy pieces. He admits that a Chanel bag, while beautiful, isn’t right for everyone—that his designs may work for some people and not others. The “slow fashion” concept involves a much more personal exchange of energies resulting in a piece that never goes out of style and will last a lifetime. He chooses to create only limited-edition pieces, crafting about ten of each design and no more, refusing to sell anything he hasn’t worked on with his own two hands. “I do limited editions because I don’t want uniforms, he says. “Sometimes I make just one-of-a-kind, but sometimes it’s a few pieces. But even then I try to change colors or change some details to make it different—even if it’s the same style, some detail is different.”
Calabrese’s love of antiques inspires his design process. He collects antique pieces from all over the world, building his designs around his acquired ornaments and knickknacks. “Some people design and then look around for fabrics and accessories to build it. I’m working the opposite way. I first collect pieces and then I use them, of course always with a concept in mind. But I always try to make new things. Even if I don’t travel very far, I find something nice and I say ‘well, maybe I can do something with this piece.’ That is my basis for inspiration.”
While his aesthetic is decidedly playful (the inside of each bag remains a mystery until opening), Calabrese emphasizes the importance of striking a balance between risk and wearability: “You can take a risk, I definitely take risks with my products—they’re not basic. But everything has a limit. It’s not going to be successful just because I do something crazy. The details must support an extravagant concept.” His love for Art Deco inspires the intersection between “classy and crazy” in his designs. Clean lines temper bright colors and intricate embroidery: each design a careful dance that’s “not too simple and not too much.” For Calabrese, “New York expresses Art Deco [architecturally] in high quality materials and design…like the Empire State Building. And you have the power of expression, and this is how you make something simple and pure with good quality.”
You can take a risk, I definitely take risks with my products—they’re not basic. But everything has a limit. It’s not going to be successful just because I do something crazy. The details must support an extravagant concept.
In order to produce entire collections by hand, Calabrese works with a small team of craftspeople who build the basic structure of the piece, while he applies every detail by hand. He remarks that a clutch decorated with hand-sewn crystals took him an entire week to make. His jewelry designs reflect the same concepts, and allow Calabrese to work with what he loves: the painstaking selection of each and every detail. What’s next for Calabrese’s collection? Shoes, of course. He’s currently playing with different silks and embellishments for an upcoming runway show in which every piece will be designed by him, as he has previously collaborated with clothing designers to show his accessories. The new concept will feature raincoats, bags, shoes, jewelry, and silks…lots of silks.
Calabrese plans to make no more than eight pairs of each shoe design, changing up colors and other details in keeping with his signature concept. He wants to include a card inside the yellow box containing each of his products, with his handwritten initials and a number to authenticate each piece. “I work very hard on this concept every day. People think that if they copy successful companies then they’ll be successful. That’s not true. If you have a concept in your mind that you’re passionate about, then everything else comes naturally.”