NYC Designer Spotlight: Maria Castelli

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Cecilia is half of the mother-daughter pair behind the NYC-based bag brand, Maria Castelli, which carries handbags and accessories inspired by architectural lines and function. She invited me to come check out their spring/summer collection at their pop-up shop at Canal St. Market before it closes down at the end of May. 

Bag Watch: Thanks for having me! You mentioned that you would love to show me some of the new additions to your spring/summer collection. Can you tell me a little more about them?

Cecilia: So today I want to show you our new micro-pouches that we crafted from the scraps of the leather that we had left from our bigger bags. The leather that we use for all of our bags is amazing quality, so it was a shame for it to go to waste.

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One day, I was searching for something to store my sunglasses and realized that we had all this leftover material that we could use to make these small pouches.

As we were playing with the clutches, I thought, “wouldn’t it be just perfect if we could add this micro-pouch on to this clutch to keep myself organized”? These are perfect for putting your credit cards, subway cards, and phones in.

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And for this season, we had this amazing color palette so I wanted to try and customize these pouches with all the fun colors and leathers we have for the summer. The combinations are endless! Since we were here [at Canal St. Market], this would be a great opportunity for customers to design their own. We always strive to have a customization experience at our pop-ups.

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BW: I love the concept behind it! They look super functional and useful. In terms of customization, are there any of these options for the bigger bags?

Cecilia: Yes, we will do that when we are back in this space in September. We’ve done it before in previous fall and winter seasons by playing with textures. Last winter, we combined this beautiful black leather with different types of furs. It’s a lot of fun!

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BW: Where do you source your materials from and how do you make your bags?

Cecilia: So these bags and pouches are mainly made of bovine leathers from an old tannery in the French Pyrenees. We make everything here in New York. My daughter and I are both architects, and we strive to find that right balance between form, function, and the right materials.

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For example, we don’t line some of our bags – like this pouch – because they have the right thickness. But for some of our bigger bags, we make the pockets out of suede. It’s all about balance.

BW: Tell me a little bit more about Maria Castelli as a brand. Did you just decide one day that you were going to start making bags?

Cecilia: Well, it was more of a personal journey… I was going through something tough at the time that I wasn’t expecting. One day at 3 in the morning, I thought to myself that I wanted to make bags. So long story short, I went to London, rented an apartment and went to school. I hadn’t touched a sewing machine in my life but I wanted to do something very different.

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I had my other career, architecture, but this was a fun, immersive experience. When I came back, I asked Veronica, my youngest daughter, “What now? What happens now?” And she told me, “If you want to do something with this, we’ll do it together”.

Now it’s been five years! At the beginning, it was a lot of time in the studio – developing our own voice. Our bags have reflected our own approach and development over time.

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BW: That’s an amazing story – thank you for sharing it with me! Can you tell me a little more about what you’re excited to be doing with Maria Castelli going forward? What’s next for the upcoming season?

Cecilia: Yes, we have some amazing additions for the fall! We will be playing with furs and calf leathers. We are a classic brand, but we still like to play with colors in one hand and textures in the other, to keep it fresh.

We are also introducing new bags, but we will always have our signature collection.

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This is one of our signature handbags, the Bryant. There’s also a backpack and mini crossbody version for working women who are looking for functional bags!

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BW: I love the look and feel of the bags. The texture in particular reminds me of the pebbled leather seen on Hermès handbags.

Cecilia: Yes, we actually know that the tanneries that we source our leathers from provide leather to big luxury designers. We choose these tanneries because we do not compromise on quality.

We want women who see our bags to recognize our quality alongside top designers. That’s why the details are important to us, like why we do the seams twice.

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We are providing really high quality designs, materials, and craftsmanship at a price that is reasonable in NYC.

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Maria Castelli bags are available online and at Canal St. Market until the end of May 2018. They will return to Canal St. Market in September. 

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