Tell us about your brand: when did you start to think about this project?
I was born and grown in Tuscany and I always admired artisans and their manual skills. After university and a period living in the USA, I enrolled at a school of accessory model making in Florence. I then graduated from the leather school in the same city. I immediately got the chance to work closely with the florentine craftsmen masters in the manual leather process: so, I decided to take this project forward.
As a child, had you ever thought about taking this path? I have always been curious and enthusiatic about learning new things. My grandfather was a tailor and I started to appreciate fashion and design while spending time in his tailor shop between counters and textiles. I worked in tourism and travelled extensively for a period of time, but ultimately I chose to follow this path.
Have you involved your friends and relatives in the project? Who is your team composed of? Some friends and contributors help me commercially and logistically, while some artisans who live and work in the beatiful Tuscany deal with manufacture and creation of the bags.
Do you remember what you thought when you created your first model? It was a great pleasure! Seeing an idea come to life is the most beautiful thing that can happen to you. The name of my first bag was Eva -as the first woman- and, since then, I have given all my creations names of women: in this way I feel I am giving value to an idea to which I have worked with passion.
The Rita Merlini’s bags collection is entirely handmade-produced with natural hides: how important is being environmentally-friendly to you?
Care for the environment is a real priority for me. I choose exclusively vegetable-tanned leather: I favor natural tannins origintaing from the Consorzio Vera Pelle al Vegetale. Every bag is also finally polished using uniquely beeswax and wollen cloth.
Which steps are required in order to consider a leather “natural”?
The vegetable-tanned leather comes from bovines addressed to food industry, it does not contain toxic substances (as azocolourants or nickel and chromium) dangerous both for men and the environment. We only use natural tannins extracts obtained from tree bark, such as chestnut and mimosa.
What does the certification issued by the Consorzio consist of?
The warranty card of every single bag is issued by the Consorzio, it is numbered and it attests the quality, the naturalness and the origin of the laether bought by the associated tanneries.
Tuscany has always been the touchstone for leather processing. Was it easy for you to find tanneries and artisans to work with?
No, it was not easy. It is the result of a great and constant work in continuous search of the last artisans, custodians of the ancient traditional techniques passed on from generation to generation in the Tuscan area.
What is the approximate time needed to create a Rita Merlini bag, from the initial project to its creation?
The planning of a single bag takes place during the preparation of every collection, already having in mind the shade, shape and manufacturing . The subsequent preparation of every single piece includes the manual cut of the stripes, the manual bind, the packaging and the polishing with beeswax and woollen cloth.
Nature is a clear source of inspiration for your collection. Which is your favourite place to work on the new models? Do you seek refuge in nature or do you work in an office?
I usually work in an office, where there is my old counter, the leathers we will use, my models and all the instruments I need. But I often work from home. I’m inspired by nature: I always carry a notebook with me because inspiration may come during a walk in the woods or in the country or at the beach…even in winter. I’m glad to be living between two wonderful lands, the regions of Tuscany and Liguria, so I’m full of inspiration…
How do you manage to balance your career with the need to take care of the family? Do you have children?
Yes, I have two children. Becoming a mother switched me into a higher gear. I am very grateful to my children for my personal growth. Balancing a career and family is not easy but I am happy thinking that this will transmit the importance of running a project, an idea wih enthusiasm, determination and care to my children.
The colours of your bags are timeless, but at the same time they are never boring. How important is the choice of shades for you?
I like the earth tones and I choose colours like ash gray, mud, walnut, sand-colored, brown and…I am in love with red, especially in the summer. While designing a new collection the choice of the colours is important, but even more are the shapes, the proportions and the manufacturing.
On your website www.ritamerlini.it we see that every bag of your collection is made by hand: do you want to tell us the reason of this choice?
Yes, every piece is handmade. We cut the stripes of different length depending on the model, then we carry out an irregular procedure, particular and unique in its genre, interweaving the stripes. This is a specific technique of the Tuscan artisans, from the pleating to embroidery.
This choice is the nucleus of the project: to create a product which values the Italian craftsmanship excellence and which is different from the numerous poorer-quality and mass-produced items.
Are you planning to sell your bags online in the future or do you prefer that your customers touch with hand your products, considering the high quality of them?
Some of the shops with which we work sell our bags online on their websites. On our website we choose to just present our products and styles: we prefer direct contact. Sometimes people mail us and we point them to the nearest shop or we directly send them the product. Sometimes people come to visit us in our showroom in Chiavari.
Can you give us a preview for next season?
I am still working on it…we present our a/w 2018 collection in New York and Paris from the end of February, we will show you new interweaves and other interesting manufacturing….