Since she was just a little girl, her dreams of designing and bringing patterns to life brought fire to her spirit; In fact, she drew inspiration from everywhere around her, from the movies to billboards… the countless textures were everything she daydreamed about.
“Since I was a young girl I loved fashion, my father had been a clothing manufacturer all of his life… so I grew up, my whole life in ‘patrones’ (patterns), fabrics… and since I was a little girl, I used to have Barbies and a purses, [a giggle ensues] really I mean most women love shoes and I, I love shoes, but purses MORE! I just grew up loving fashion.”
The second I stepped foot into her home, I was transported into a world of culture and travel, with artifactual collections from her travels around the world, from Egyptian trinkets to her Indonesian furniture and the South American paintings that strewn her walls… I instinctively knew, Andrea Basilis was not just a passion project, but a culmination of years of global exploration translated into fashion.
First and foremost, I just had to know what it was, that had inspired Mariela to design her handbags?
She started off by telling me a quick tale about growing up on the Island of Puerto Rico, and how she had always been the tallest girl in her class, so it made sense that the world of modeling would seek her out, “At 17 years old when I was modeling, I used to go New York, Spain, Paris and my world was designer. That was the taste I developed, not that I could afford everything like that, but I drooled when I visited with high end designers… I was always around this fashion world, but dreaming with making my own purses. I love to travel, so I started traveling around the world…”
After leaving the Island life to pursue her modeling career, Mariela got the taste of traveling in her mouth and just knew she never wanted to stop exploring the world’s cultures. Like a bird, Mariela took flight with her goals, and took to flying as a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines. As she soared through the skies and over the seas, the abundance of colors twirled through her imagination, creating a world of endless creativity, as she began incorporating the essence of the world around her into her wardrobe. At each of her stops along the way, whether it was Morocco, Paris or Abu Dhabi, the countless wonders of the world, were a canvas from which she drew inspiration, ultimately leading to ideas for her own line.
“A couple of years ago we went to Morocco on vacation, we went to these places that they do clothing, bags and shoes in 2 hours, and I designed my own purse, for fun. I remember, when I arrived back in the States, I was at Whole Foods, and this woman kept getting close to me and staring at my purse, and she said, ‘Oh, I have to ask, where did you buy your purse, because I am in love with it’… So I said ‘I designed this one’ and I told her the story…
Then one afternoon, I went shopping in Miami and at each store the employees, stopped us to ask about my purse; so I turned to my niece and told her, you know what I am going to start my own line of purses. Everyone in my family looked at me and said, ‘You’re in your 50s, you are going to start that business now?’… and I said, you know what I am going to follow my dream.”
Mariela, exclaimed that she knew it seemed a crazy pipe dream, and that this is a business most people start when they are very young… but with a giant smile, she looked over to me and exclaimed she did not care, she coyly looked towards her samples for the 2016 Season and with a proud sense of accomplishment, said “I decided to make Luxury purses!”
Her vigor evaporated from her charismatic sense of self, she was a strong woman full of life and was not going to live the rest of it, wondering ‘what if’ she would have taken a chance on her dreams, she just hopped right back on a plane to Morocco and went to find her calling!
“So I went back to Morocco, but the finish of that particular bag was not so good, so I said if I am going to do it, I am going to compete with the highest of designers, because that’s what I like. I’d rather have one CHANEL than 25, knockoffs. I love designer stuff, because I grew up on that!
After I realized that Morocco was not the best place to make purses, because of the bad finishing touches… I find that in the South of Spain, there is this little town, which is like an hour and a half from Sevilla– they call Ubrique, where they just manufacture leather. Bags, not jackets or clothes, but bags, belts and accessories! So everybody there from generation to generation has been working in leather… I ended up making connections with this factory, which also produces some of Cartier’s Bags and Carolina Herrera.
I now have two factories that make my bags, in Ubrique.”
She stops the interview and runs into her office and begins to show me some stunning bags and says, I know these bags are a bit more controversial, because of the exotic animals used to make them— but they are unique and they are mine and I am proud to say I love them… So I glance over at the bags and quickly ask what they made of?
“The best quality of cow, or goat and pony. The inside of all of these purses is suede and then if not the exotic ones, the crocodile, the snake, right now I don’t have any python, but I will soon…
This past years collection, the bags were a bit larger, than next seasons collection, which will be a little bit smaller, from the center of the Croc… They are from America and they are transported to our factory in Europe, to be made into the bag. It depends on the size of the animal, where it will come from; the others come from The Amazons, close to Brazil. Pythons come from Africa…
The Leather comes from Spain and Italy, but I have mixed sizes and Fabrics, in order to adjust cost for our customers.”
When it comes to high end exotics like furs, or animal skin bags, shoes and belts it’s simply a matter of taste, its a business. Designers acquire their skins from folks across the globe, whether from the South American Amazon or Africa, and even right here in The United States. Many hunt animals to feed their families and repurpose the skins to be sold or traded, in order to provide a life for their families. It’s almost a very rural and antiquated thought process, but it still works. Families across the globe in potentially more underdeveloped villages, find this to be a niche market, for which they can hone their skills and use these animals to provide for their families. It’s a trade and a craft.
Once the animal skins reach designers, like the mind behind Andrea Basilis, the rest is put into sketches and brought to life in their production factories.
It’s all quite interesting when put into perspective and her exotics are finished with beauty and grace that curate and honor the animals past its life; so I wondered, Y she was inspired to call these handbags Andrea Basilis, when her name is Mariela?
“I don’t have kids, but my niece is like the light of my life. I have a very close connection to her, she has the essence of my personality, kind of tough and her name is Andrea. We went together to Morocco, and this happened when we were together. From the beginning, it was a connection to this dream, for us both. I decided to take some money and invest it, everybody who makes a business has to take a chance and risks.
I said Andrea I want to take your name, and she asked if she could use her Grandmother’s maiden name, as her surname. Her Grandma was from Greece, Basilis, we wrote it down and I said BINGO! I like this name…”
At 18 years-old Andrea, the namesake and inspiration behind the brand, is also taking a more poignant role in the company. She inspires and helps designing the handbags; We went to Spain twice and although Mariela makes the final decisions, Andrea’s creativity is vital to the integrity of Andrea Basilis Handbags.
Since Andrea Basilis bags have yet to make their way into mainstream USA, I had to know what Mariela’s goals were, where did she want to see the designs in say 3 years?
“Bergdorfs. In the States, Bergdorf Goodman. I dream, I dream of seeing Andrea Basilis gracing the aisles of BG.”
Now I must say, one of the best parts of our conversation, was when we wrapped up our interview and I just had to know… How much impact will these bags have on our wallets, will Y’s have to save for a little bit before we buy AB Bags?
“They start from like 16 to …”
Well, I don’t really know what that means exactly, but since Mariela was a flight attendant, I responded, ‘I am going to guess that means as high as 30,000 feet in the air!’ You see, Exotics are expensive… but she tries to mix in leather touches, so that the cost can come down a bit for customers, like Millennials who seem to be a bit more conscious of their pocketbook, no pun intended!
With only 65 days till Christmas, I think I may have to ask Santa, for an early Christmas Present…
Andrea Basilis became Mariela’s wings, in order to pursue her dreams, and continue to soar!
Are You Soaring?