You wake up one morning and decide to make a present for your mum with the help of your dad. And just as you start making it you come up with one of the most successful fashion accessories. So successful that Anna Dello Russo, Chiara Ferragni, Karolina Kurkova and Nausheen Shah hold it as the most beloved piece of their looks during important fashion events worldwide. And if you think this is just a beautiful dream you just woke up from, let me tell you that there is one girl out there who brought this dream to reality! Urania Aliki (=Alice) Giourmetaki is the girl behind the brand Urania Gazelli and no matter how unbelievable it may sound if you ask her what she does, she will answer in the most naive way that she’s studied Industrial Design and makes bags!
On today’s interview Urania lets us into her world and explains what it feels like being Alice in Wonderland!
Plexiglas is not a material one can imagine being used to make bags and I personally find it hard to picture a girl working on it in a workshop. How did you decide to use it?
Plexiglas is a material I have worked on almost daily since I’ve been helping out at the family business of Plexiglas constructions from a very young age. The idea to use it for the creation of a bag was rather coincidental when 4 or 5 years ago my dad and I decided to make a transparent jewellery box as a present for my mum. As we were making it I turned to my father and said “What about making a bag?” to get the answer “But who would buy a transparent bag exposing all its contents?” I then remembered the Chanel Cassette Tape clutch but I wanted a handmade one and not one made out of a mould and took the decision to make my first bag thinking it could be a successful idea.
So, you start off with an almost first-born idea that would possibly look strange to buyers. How did you manage to promote it?
I had studied Decorating with a Bachelors Degree in Industrial Design and my experience next to a well-known decorator, with whom I frequently visited international trade fairs, made me think that a good jump start would be to look for relevant international fairs specializing in accessories in order to promote my bags there since I knew that because of their production cost it was almost impossible to introduce them to the Greek market.
On my next business trip to Paris I literally toured the city to find trade shows I could participate in. However, it was impossible to take part with just the one bag I had made and returned to Greece and designed many more in different colours. Some time later, there I was in Paris again for the Première Classe Trade Show. A number of things went wrong then; my name was misspelled, knowing nothing about the fashion calendar I appeared in March 2012 with my plexiglas fluo clutches when everybody else was showing dark winter colours for FW12! Fortunately, my effort was somehow recognized as there were buyers for my clutches.
It’s more that obvious that your products are different and innovating, what is it that makes them stand out from similar ones?
What makes my bags different is that they are not a mass production product. My workmanship and know-how of the material is more than significant and mirrored on the quality of my clutches. It takes hours of personal work for the final result. Every single Urania Gazelli bag has “spent” hours with me before finding its owner and this makes it one of a kind!
How easy was it for a completely unknown girl from Greece to conquer some of the most influential people of fashion and be recognised not only in her country but also internationally? Did you hire an agent to promote your work?
In the beginning I did, because everybody told me there was no way I would make it on my own. As time went by however, I decided to promote it all by myself. I understood that my initial feeling that the only person who can really “sell” your product is you the creator yourself was right, simply because you are the only one who loves and believes in it so much.
Truth is that recognition in Greece has only very recently come and mostly after my presentation for the Vogue Talents in Italy as there is still no selling point here. Abroad things are different. Gildakoral Floral, my PR Manager, found me through a photo an online shop selling my bags uploaded. She went through my instagram profile, saw Queen of Hearts and asked to buy it. When she came to pick it up at the next Trade Show I was taking part in she paid for it and told me “This money is gonna bring you good luck!” Believe it or not, my life changed on that day because that is when my brand started becoming known. She showed my bags to Anna Dello Russo, Chiara Ferragni and Nausheen Shah and then Vogue Talents knocked my door! I will never forget the day I received the Italian Vogue email reading I had been chosen as one of the most talented young people in fashion!
Anna Dello Russo, Chiara Ferragni, Anna Wintour, Karolina Kurkova, Nausheen Shah who of the famous people you have met has made an impression on you?
The man I was impressed by is not somebody widely known to the general public and his name is François Pinault. He is the President of Kering Group and manages brands such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney and Gucci. I met him during the Vogue Talents where he came to congratulate us on our work and will never forget the moment his assistant and bodycards were almost dragging him away from my stand! He told me that he had never thought this transparent material could come out in so many colours and designs and couldn’t believe I am Greek and my clutches are Made In Greece since Plexiglas is traditionally made in Italy and Made In Italy is obviously better known.
How easy was it for the international market to embrace a young designer from Greece?
In the beginning they were a little hesitant mainly because Made In Greece is not a powerful “branding” but they are generally very positive towards me although Greek Fashion is unfortunately almost a “stranger” to the international market.
As you’ve already said, your first bag was a made rather coincidentally while making a present for your mum. Where does inspiration come from for your collections now?
I know it’s gonna sound awkward but I think it’s more of a feeling I have rather than inspiration. In a strange and inexplicable way I have a feeling for what’s gonna be trendy; a feeling that has not let me down so far. For instance, I knew Art Deco was going to be the FW13 trend and released my Chessboard Clutch. With the Great Gatsby release that was finally the prevailing trend!
However, there is a personal story behind the SS14 collection. I’ve been given two names; Urania and Alice and though only my very best friends call me Alice I always felt closer to that name than to Urania. When I first watched the movie Alice in Wonderland I almost felt being her. My favourite scene is that where the cards are painting roses red under the orders of Queen of Hearts. I wanted to make a collection based on this beloved story but because of all the copyrights chaos I would have to go through and noticing that cards hadn’t been used a lot in fashion I decided to create that collection.
The basic ingredient of your bags is their vivid colours. Are you an optimistic person?
When I started this job I was extremely optimistic and very enthusiastic but difficulties change us and our initial naivety fades as time goes by. Two years after my first contact with the commercial side of all this, I do my best to reach my goals but I must confess there are moments during production time that my optimism simply disappears. Fortunately, the moment I step into Trade Shows all my positive feelings are back because it is there that I see my work being recognised!
What is La Grèce J’aime (=what I love about greece) for you?
Allow me to answer in two parts.
Greece is its eternal sun, the sea and our glorious history.
La Grèce J’aime however, means to me a team of people, with you as the driving force, who are passionate and want to promote in the most innovative and unique way Greek Designers and Creators. I like the way this is done through a fresh and distinct perspective with respect for its readers and the people presented. I also love it that ever since you launched the site 7 months ago your material is constantly evolving. I expect a lot from you and have a feeling that you won’t let me down!