Bucket List: Behind the Cult of Mansur Gavriel

A glimpse inside the visual universe of Mansur Gavriel, maker of the it-bag that launched a thousand Instagram posts

Head-To-Toe: Floriana Gavriel (left) and Rachel Mansur attend the 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards in looks they designed themselves

Head-To-Toe: Floriana Gavriel (left) and Rachel Mansur attend the 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards in looks they designed themselves (Photo: Getty Images)

On the first day of the fall couture shows this past July, with a heat wave adding to the Paris sizzle, Rachel Mansur, 31, and Floriana Gavriel, 32, could be found cooling down in the dimly lit bar at the Hôtel du Louvre. The newly crowned CFDA Swarovski Award for Accessory Design winners had flown in from New York, not to attend the collections but to unveil a limited-edition version of their bestselling bucket bag for Colette. Within 48 hours, the lustrous blue pony hair–effect carryall would be sold out. For anyone who has tried to buy a bag from the cult accessories label, this should come as no surprise. The typical message on their website reads “sold out,” with no anticipated restocking date. There are no wait-lists, and pre-orders are not accepted.

Window Shopping: The display at Colette featured an oversized paper replica of the boutique’s limited-edition bucket bag by Mansur Gavriel

Window Shopping: The display at Colette featured an oversized paper replica of the boutique’s limited-edition bucket bag by Mansur Gavriel (Photo: Instagram)

If we’ve learned anything from the it-bag era, it’s that exclusivity feeds the hype beast. For proof, just search the hashtag #happygirlhappybag and scroll through more than 9,000 pictures of proud MG owners. But demand for the line, which is launching at Holt Renfrew this fall, is also fuelled by a distinct attainability. For starters, the bucket begins at $585, the backpack at $950 and the new cross-body at $595—price tags that don’t induce the same four-figure sticker shock that has begun to feel like the new normal.

Still Life: A typical shot from the brand’s Instagram feed

Still Life: A typical shot from the brand’s Instagram feed (Photo: Instagram)

“When we first started developing the brand, we felt that the market didn’t allow for good quality at this mid-price point,” Mansur says, explaining that they are able to keep costs down by eschewing unnecessary hardware and other details that typically go unnoticed (plated metal lettering, internal framework). This allows them to “value materials above all else,” she says of the vegetable-tanned leathers and canvas linings, all sourced and manufactured in Italy. The result? Bags that emphasize design simplicity over flashy branding.

Cross-body bag, $695, Holt Renfrew

Cross-body bag, $695, Holt Renfrew

Mini bucket bag, $725, Holt Renfrew

Mini bucket bag, $725, Holt Renfrew

Which is not to suggest that visual identity has been given short shrift; arguably, it’s the foundation of this entire undertaking. Browse the brand’s Instagram (if you’re not already among its 210,000+ followers), and you’ll notice how it creates a highly stylized natural universe around the leather goods: a trio of pink bucket bags nestled in a bucket chair; artfully staged mangoes, bananas and cantaloupes that look like a pop-modern interpretation of a still life; a series of landscapes shot through saturated filters with the hashtag #stayingzen. The cumulative effect is as strong a brand message as their whimsical campaign ads, which this season feature friends and models holding their wares against coloured backdrops.

Step & Repeat: A shot from Mansur Gavriel’s whimsical fall ’15 campaign, featuring the new Lady bag

Step & Repeat: A shot from Mansur Gavriel’s whimsical fall ’15 campaign, featuring the new Lady bag

This visual instinct is in many ways reflective of the way the friends have always communicated with each other. Back in 2010, when both were studying art (Mansur in Los Angeles and Gavriel in Berlin), they met in L.A. at an xx concert. They hit it off and became pen pals of a sort, emailing each other contemporary art images instead of mailing handwritten letters. It was the beginning of the visual language the pair will continue to hone as they expand beyond bags. And although they couldn’t be coaxed into revealing further details on that front, a hint came a month earlier at the 2015 CFDA Fashion Awards, where the duo wore head-to-toe looks they had designed themselves, simple ladylike dresses featuring conservative and streamlined silhouettes offset by solid, standout hues of carnation and peony; their flattering low-heeled sandals, meanwhile, seemed entirely in step with their low-maintenance bags. Accessories, they insist, were never the end goal. In fact, the best revelation of all occurs when Mansur blithely admits to having not been a purse person prior to designing them, which may explain Mansur Gavriel’s pared-back essence. “I never bought a nice bag in my life. When I met Nana, I had been using a Hennessey + Ingalls tote bag for a year,” she says, referring to Gavriel by her childhood nickname and to the fine-art and design bookshop in L.A. “There’s so much we want to do. We’ve only really had one expression out there in one form, in one functionality,” she explains. “We want to express ourselves.”

Snap Happy: Mansur and Gavriel can’t resist a moody natural setting for their designs

Snap Happy: Mansur and Gavriel can’t resist a moody natural setting for their designs (Photo: Instagram)

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