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Interview: accessories designer Elena Ghisselini

Lauretta Roberts
30 March 2017

Elena Ghisselini is a pre-eminent accessories designer heading up her own brand as well as accessories design for Italian brand Pucci. Her career has taken in stints with Trussardi and Salvatore Ferragamo as well as a collaboration with Riccardo Tisci when he was at Givenchy.

She talks to The Industry about her career, the experience of setting up her own brand and her plans for the future.

Your CV includes some very illustrious names; your first role was with Trussardi after you graduated from design school. What was it that drove you to want to design accessories and how easy or hard was it to get into the business at the start of your career?

Fashion has been my dream since I was a little girl: a world where I could give vent to my creativity. My mother was particularly fond of luxury accessories. She taught me to appreciate quality leather, and I was crazy about her shoes and her beautiful bags, about the sensual touch of the leather and its fragrance. The living matter of leather became my chosen material for creating original and special accessories.

Elena Ghisellini

Angel bag

You moved on to work for another great name Salvatore Ferragamo, and you have also collaborated with Riccardo Tisci for Givenchy, what did you learn from those experiences?

From Salvatore Ferragamo, I learnt how to create excellence and the true quality of products, how to manage the process so as to make the very best of Made in Italy.

I shall always be immensely grateful to Riccardo Tisci for having taught me the method for creating innovation. Beyond this, his boundless talent has inspired me – and always will inspire me – to create objects of desire.

In 2003 you set up your own label, why was it important for you to have your own brand?

To pursue my mission of freedom to express my personal vision, to always be free to create original objects without too many compromises. I want audacious products that reflect women’s real needs and my own DNA as a person who loves life and novelty.

Can you describe the Elena Ghisellini aesthetic and which of your bags would you describe as your "signature" pieces?

My aesthetic sense is a mixture of inspiration that comes from art, mostly from the graphic arts, and from the observation of what all women want. Grasping the right, cool attitude; being unique and courageous, aiming to arouse feelings. My cult bag is definitely the Felina, a highly recognisable and audacious little clutch bag for day or evening, by now avilable in numerous variants. A timeless model.

Elena Ghisellini

The Felina clutch

How has your style and aesthetic evolved over the years?

In the past the collections were more tied up with adhering to perfection in the execution of the details. Now I’ve learnt to be increasingly essential and simple, trying to infuse the essence of the brand into every object.

When you design do you have a particular customer in mind and if so how would you describe her?

The woman I take as a model is definitely a free spirit who doesn’t like barriers of any kind, a cultivated lady who doesn’t allow herself to be influenced. And so, a woman who exists in all the countries and cultures of the world. It’s a question of approach to life.

Where are your bags made; the quality looks beautiful?

All my bags are made by a workshop that is the feather in the cap of Made in Italy, where the older and younger generations work side by side.

Elena Ghisellini

Cosmo bag

Can you talk to us also about your brand positioning? Your price point, while not cheap, is accessible. Has that been a deliberate strategy?

he brand is a luxury handbag designer, with core values of innovativeness, uniqueness and freedom. My target is women aged between 20 and 60, well-educated with a medium-high income. The hallmark of Elena Ghisellini is the innovative, sophisticated and recognizable design.

I feel that selling quality at accessible prices is a mission, playing fair by the customer who chooses my brand.

What about distribution. Can you explain to us where you are sold and how you are developing that?

My bags are distributed all over the world, in all the major department stores and in multibrand boutiques. We have worked hard to earn appreciation and to be impeccable in our standards of quality and delivery. My team is made up of leading experts in the sector who work with great devotion. Also, we have never faltered in our commitment to continually renew the collections.

Apart from the bags and the charms (these are great!), do you have plans to expand your range into other categories?

I want to concentrate on leather goods for women, because we are getting excellent results with these. For the future there are many projects that we are considering.

Elena Ghisellini

Lolita charm

You are also head accessory designer at Pucci? How do you balance the two and do you take a different approach to designing than you do you for your own brand?

Designing collections for other brands is rather like playing a role for an actor. One’s own personality is always in play, along with the know-how, but you also have to respect the DNA of the company, and that is very inspiring.

Working on your own brand calls for more concentration and certainty, and no small dose of perseverance. I have always found measuring myself against other brands and companies to be enriching, and it makes you grow intellectually.

What is the vision for the Elena Ghisellini brand moving forward?

Keeping contemporaneity always in mind. And innovation. Creating objects that can evoke feelings. Spreading my brand further and further throughout the world.

If you were advising an accessory designer starting out today, would you tell them it's a good idea to work for a big brand before setting up on their own?

The first and best idea would be to work side by side with the leather workshops to get a grip on how the products are made in technical terms. That baggage of know-how allows one to address a great deal. Being expert in handing the material is fundamental.

On the one hand, working for the big brands is important for seeing and understanding the processes and learning how to manage them. On the other hand, however, since the large structure functions as a protection, you have to be aware that, if you set up on your own, you have to tackle everything yourself. You have to be ready for this big challenge.

Elena Ghisselini is available to buy from Harvey NicholsBoutique 1 and Bernard Boutique in the UK. 

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