Sometime last fall, I became aware of a new "influencer bag," if you will, that looked nothing like an "influencer bag" at all. Rather than serving as a tidy evolution of the micro Jacquemus top-handle or the early-2000s-beloved baguette, this new contender was slender and boxy, with gold-plated brass fixings and in the lower corner, an embellishment of a woman's naked figure.
I soon learned that the purse in question, the "Claude," came courtesy of Marargent, a Colombian handbag label focused on generational appeal. So while it doesn't exclusively cater to overarching industry trends, that doesn't mean its designs aren't "trendy." It currently only offers four styles, including the "Pierre," a ruched over-shoulder pouch that's reminiscent of other croissant-like bags featured at brands like Daniel Lee's Bottega Veneta.
Marargent's Pierre, though, was inspired by French interior designer Pierre Paulin, whose iconic "Alpha" sofas soared in popularity throughout the 1970s and 1980s. (Nicolas Ghesquière famously has a pair of original Pierre Paulin sofas in his Paris apartment.) There's also the "La Femme," all sloped, angular sides and vintage-era embellishments, as well as the "Alligator," a classic reimagination of Hermès's Kelly bag. Indeed, Marargent's designs are just that: classic reimaginations that look as if your grandmother's favorite bag, that you've inherited, went through only the most modest of 21st-century touchups.
Mariana Ramirez, the brand's founder and creative director, started Marargent out of her own desire for an aesthetically-relevant handbag label that defied the tides of time. "When I was growing up, I wanted something that could be passed down from generation to generation," Ramirez tells me over Zoom from Bogotá, where she's based and where the line is designed, sourced and hand-made in small batches. (Each bag, priced between $380 and $460, takes Marargent's small team of five a full two weeks to complete.) "I was tired of spending a lot of money on handbags and then selling them online for half the price because I didn't feel more inspired by them."
So Ramirez became her own solution, beginning research for the collection in May 2019. Her intentions were admittedly a bit selfish, too, at least artistically: In addition to seeking a bag with decades-long appeal, she also dreamt of one that represented her own interests in art, architecture and mid-century design. As it stands today, Marargent cites influence from the likes of vintage accessories, the human body and nature, but Ramirez also references the work of artists like Constantin Brancusi and Auguste Rodin.
"Inspiration is something you have in your inner self and you have to improve it by educating yourself on the things that make you vibrate the most," says Ramirez, who worked as a journalist throughout Colombia before launching the brand. "I discovered that going to museums was a big source of inspiration for me, so I wanted to educate myself on the art and sculptures that great artists made two centuries ago."
While the brand's bags themselves are testament to Ramirez's own work as a student of design, the label's Instagram account is perhaps a more literal representation. Next to a product photo of the buttery beige "La Femme" bag is an image of Brussels' CBR Building, designed in the New Brutalism style by architects Constantin Brodzki and Marcel Lambrichs; beside a close-up shot of the glossy black Pierre, there's a roomful of gracefully curved sculptors by Jean Arp, a German-French abstract artist and a founding member of Dadaism.
By last September — just four months after Ramirez commenced development in earnest — Marargent was up and running. Rather than rely on traditional distribution channels, like immediate wholesale partnerships, the brand went all in on influencer gifting. To Ramirez, if she was going to promote something that was a physical extension of her, it was going to happen in the most organic way possible.
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"I want every person who wears Marargent to wear it because they identify with the brand and not because they're being paid," she says. "I made a list of a select group of people who I wanted to wear the brand and every single day, I wrote these people telling them about it. Sometimes they took months to answer, but others responded very, very quickly."
One such influencer who responded immediately was Kaia Gerber (or Kaia Gerber's People™), who has since been photographed with her "Pierre" bag on numerous occasions. ("I was like, wow — this Chanel girl likes my brand!") Marargent became a hit with the influencer set: Early fans also included Bella Hadid, Laurel Johnson and Camila Coelho.
In November, Christie Tyler, the influencer you may know as @nycbambi, posted an outfit shot for her 400,000-plus followers that pictured a chocolate-brown wool coat and a coordinating "Pierre" bag. The next day, Moda Operandi was in Ramirez's inbox. And two days after that, Ramirez was at the luxury e-commerce platform's offices in New York City, with the retailer proposing that they host Marargent as a trunkshow to see how the buyers responded. (Women's Fashion Director Lisa Aiken has since said that the brand offers "stealth wealth investment piece feel.") Said trunkshow had such a successful run that it concluded with Ramirez signing an exclusivity agreement with Moda Operandi for the remainder of 2020.
"When I started, I aspired to start selling with Moda Operandi in 2022," says Ramirez. "There are a lot of big brands, a lot of great brands with clean aesthetics and high-quality materials, on Moda Operandi, so I thought that before joining them, Marargent needed to be big, too. We're just five people here in Colombia working on this big dream. I never thought I'd be able to join Moda Operandi so fast or that it could be my first step in this fashion industry."
Ramirez chalks it up to a certain kind of kismet. "As you can see," she says, "it was all very, very fast. What's meant to be is going to be."
In pandemic-driven quarantine, where Colombia's mandatory stay-at-home orders were enforced until May 31, Marargent had real moments of stillness for the first time. It's important for creativity, explains Ramirez, but also increasingly difficult for her suppliers.
In July, for example, the Bogotá government issued new reopening rules, but organized by geographic location. "It's a problem because not all of my materials are in the same location," she says. "Thankfully, where the atelier is isn't closed so orders can operate there." Her suppliers, from leather to suede and vintage gold plating to ornamentation, have been less accessible.
The brand has also been trying to launch new product categories — she names booties and belts to start — since April, but the process has been slow, if only because her partners are facing the same challenges Ramirez is. "Sometimes it's just important to slow down and make the process even more perfect," she says. "In these times, I've tried to make each thing even better than I thought it could be from the start."
Even before the current health crisis, which has forced fashion brands of all makes and models to reconsider just about everything within the supply chain, Marargent would likely be considered "slow fashion." But because the brand thinks of itself so firmly outside trends, its labels are a bit more nebulous. What do you call the kind of fashion business that cares more about a product's longevity for the consumer's future children and grandchildren than for a single trend cycle?
"My priority was to make things I could wear no matter the season, no matter the century," says Ramirez. "I have a little boy and I'm expecting a baby girl right now. I have a husband. So I try to be very focused on the things that really matter, so maybe in 20 years, my children may be able to design, too, and have a legacy from their mom, which is to continue making what inspires them the most."