[INTERVIEW] Woven in Style: Marla Cielo Handbags & Accessories

May 5, 2011

Marla cielo

A few weeks ago, my friend Christophe connected me with an up-and-coming accessories designer Andrea Sanders, because he thought we could work together in some capacity.  After all, I write about fashion and she designs.  A few email exchanges later, Andrea and I had moved our new found friendship to a phone call to learn more about each other.  We had similar interests, we’re both entrepreneurs, both leaving behind the 9 to 5 job to work to follow our passions and we loved art.  Andrea told me she was throwing a party for her new Spring/Summer 2011 collection for the handbag label, Marla Cielo.  I immediately offered my help to host the event, which was being held at Bond 07 by Selima in SoHo.  I called up my new bestie, Alex Liang of Kenton Magazine to co-host the event with me.

I only support brands I really believe in and Marla Cielo is one of those brands.  Andrea Sanders, the brains behind the operation is passionate, artistic, focused, ambitious but not ruthless, creative and philanthropic, all qualities I admire.  On the day of the Marla Cielo Spring Awakening Party, I got the chance to check out Andrea’s initial process of creating the artwork that will eventually become handbags, totes, wristlets and clutches.  Starting with a large 6 yard canvas, she paints the voluptuous figure of a woman then begins filling it in.  “This is how each painting gets started,” she tells me.  It’s still surreal to see how such a large canvas painting is cut into strips and turned into her gorgeous handbags.

Makeda Saggau-Sackey, Guest, Kenton Magazine’s Alex Liang, La Caravelle Champagne’s Rita Jammet

The New York based artist has started garnering a cult following with the mainstream quickly catching on to her accessories collection.  Her current Spring collection includes envelope clutches, iPad cases, wristlets, phone carrying cases and large tote bags.  What I love about her bags is that it connects a lot of people in a very intrinsic way.  Each large canvas is cut into strips and woven, which means many people who will be carrying the Marla Cielo bag will have a piece of the artwork.  I had the chance to interview Andrea about the name Marla Cielo, her painting process and how these lovely canvas paintings turn into handbags. She also gives us hints on a few upcoming projects that has gotten me excited.

Who is Marla Cielo?
She is the source of all the energy that goes into creating the bags and the identity that is carried throughout the brand and each bag.  She is dynamic, like an energy field that takes inspiration from things around her, my life, people in my life, world events.  I created her and am always working on developing her and sharing her, I’m like the vehicle that brings her to life.  I also give her life, but so do a lot of other people, whether they know it or not.

How long are the canvas you paint?
– 6 yards long and 60 inches wide

How long does it take you to paint?
It varies a lot on the style, but anywhere from 4 hours to 16 hours on average. Four hours is tough but doable for simpler styles

So take me through your process.  How do you come up with the concept and what do you do before painting the canvas?
Its very spontaneous when it happens but the process is a product of thinking about images, color, ideas for hours every day.  In the moment, I decide on colors first, usually I pick 6-8 to put on the table and end up using 4-5 of them.  Right now I work yard by yard, so basically its like painting 6 different yard long paintings that all go together.  For the plaids and the flowers each yard is more or less repetitive, for the ‘exclusives’ each yard is painted with completely different images but with similar colors and techniques so when it’s woven it looks like one cohesive image for the writing, 100% spontaneous, like opening a dam, words just flow

So what do you do when you are painting? Do you listen to music? Get in the zone? What’s on your playlist while painting?
For the writing I don’t listen to music. For the painting, I usually listen to one artist for a while then switch.  Ones that have stuck the most are Zach Williams, Kanye West, Norah Jones, Ricardo Arjona, KT Tunstall, Black Crows, Oasis

Now on to those gorgeous bags.  How did you come up with the concept of the woven bag?
When I did my first production run, I started spending time around looms.  The factory I work with does a lot of weaving. I was happy with my non woven clutch pattern but had concerns around the seams and where the painted material folded (it was a fold over clutch).  Basically when using painted canvas as a structural pattern piece, there are significant design limitations. One day after staring at the looms long enough while waiting for a meeting, I asked the guy I work with at the factory how painted canvas would work on a loom.  He told me it would work fine but weaving is expensive so I decided to give him a crap painting I had lying around to test it.  When it was done, I took one look at it and knew I would be weaving paintings from then on.The style of painting I do lends itself perfectly to weaving, I use big brushes and a lot of layers and when the images are stripped down and woven together it creates this amazing three dimensional quality and the layers of brush strokes become much more clear on the strips.

The other motivation for weaving was that I made greeting cards out of painted canvas and when i was cutting the squares i realized that the smaller the pieces the more beautiful the art looked. But its funny because if I paint small pieces to begin with, I don’t love them as much. It has to be cut out from something large. I do believe in the energy that goes into creating the huge mural, something magical happens and when it’s cut up and woven its like that energy gets redistributed and much more beautiful.

You’re bags are made in the good ‘ole US of A correct? New York City to be exact. Why not cut cost by sending somewhere else to make?
Not worth the cost savings.  As much as I need money, the value I get from working with hands on production, that i can see and be involved with is so great.  The brand is so dynamic. It needs to progress this way.  If i take it to a traditional factory with digital patterns and no in-person hands on collaboration, I may get rich, but the brand will die.  Anyway, a big part of my motivation and philosophy for doing this is that I believe in an energy that happens when things are made from scratch and 100% original. It’s what I care about and what I believe in.  If that goes away, I may as well go back to online advertising.

Are Marla Cielo bags environmentally friendly?
In my opinion yes, but depends on the definition.  I use eco friendly leather and am currently testing the use of suede plus for lining the bags instead of real splits.  Suede plus is not animal but feels like real suede so it’s definitely better for the environment. I will still use real leather for trimmings and handles, but eco leather.

It would be easy to make the bags 100% vegetarian if I wanted to and I may or may not.  But my focus is more in line with production quality and using original materials (paintings) and I believe creating original goods is a eco-friendly as using recycled feed bags, but a different take on eco-friendly.

What’s next for Marla Cielo?
Mens accessories, probably wallets to start.  I am also testing painting directly on this special leather instead of canvas fused with another material.  I think leather will work better for mens wallets because it will be thinner and more pocket friendly but still have to test.

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