During the New York Fashion Week shows in September 2015, we learned that Mansur Gavriel is launching footwear. The design duo, which consists of NYC-based Rachel Mansur and Floriana Gavriel, isn’t doing it half way. They are planning to release 320 different shoes. That’s 320 variations of four staple silhouettes. (Some of which were met with resistance (think: claims of copying) from designer Maryam Nassir Zadeh.) The silhouettes will be available in five heel heights (from flats to 110-millimeter heels) and 15 colors across two fabrications, vegetable-tanned leather and suede. They showed a collection of them at their first proper New York Fashion Week presentation.
Never heard the Mansur Gavriel name? If you're "in" fashion, that’s pretty unlikely at this point, but regardless, we can almost guarantee that you’ve seen the duo’s work. Mansur and Gavriel (who picked up the Council of fashion Designers of America Swarovski Award for Accessory Design in June) and their minimalist bucket bags, have taken the handbag market by storm since they launched their brand in April 2012. Up until this New York Fashion Week, when they debuted their brand new footwear range, the duo has relied exclusively on their Italian-made handbags to sustain their brand and it has worked. Not since the Hermès Birkin bag has there been a waiting list for a bag quite like this (and note that I do feel oddly comparing anything to the Birkin, but it arguably works well in this limited instance).
One of they key differences between the Birkin bag and the Mansur Gavriel bags: the price point. Birkins start at roughly $8,000. Mansur Gavriel’s bucket bags start at just under $500. That’s less than half the cost of a Proenza Schouler bag and less than a quarter of the cost of a Céline bag. (Note: they have since raised prices to $600 or so, likely due to the increased cost of manufacturing in Italy, as opposed to China – the brand made the switch for Spring 2014). They are able to keep costs relatively low due to their goal of “squeezing as much quality out of an accessible price point as we can. We don’t have a lining or hardware. Those things add up,” they have said.
As the Telegraph noted this past May, when the duo launched their signature bucket bag, which had been two years in the making, “a star was born; the bag quickly sold out everywhere it was stocked, becoming something of a elusive cult item - an impressive feat for a product without a major fashion house attached to it.” Fast-forward two years and demand for the bucket bag hasn't really waned … at all. It is currently out of stock at Barneys, The Line, on Moda Operandi, Forward by Elise Walker, Luisa via Roma, Matches, Shop Super Street, Ssense, and on Harper’s Bazaar’s e-commerce site. It is currently completely sold out on the brand’s website. However, it is available on eBay for at least double the retail price. Lyst.com, an online e-commerce platform with more than 11,000 partner retailers and designers, has revealed that since the start of 2015, nearly 60,000 customers have attempted to purchase the bag through Lyst.
So, what is Mansur Gavriel doing so right and can they sustain it as they expand their brand across product categories?
First things first: Mansur Gavriel seems to work so well (aka - be a smashing success) because the brand is tapping into the appeal of the affordable “it” bag. One that is sleek, nearly logo-less, and as a result, more season-less than other more statement-making bags that are clearly tied to a specific year or season. We’ve seen this before. In fact, MG seems to be following in the footsteps of another relatively recent “it” bag of sorts … the Cambridge Satchel. The two brands have surprisingly similar stories/tactics. You may recall that in 2008, Julie Deane launched the Cambridge Satchel Company and its soon-to-be famous Batchel bag, which – like the MG bucket bag – is based on a classic style that’s already in existence. Deane simply readopted it; taking a dusty design known for its traditional Oxford and Cambridge style, and making it modern. Deane began offering it in neon hues, in metallic, and with prints. Some styles even bore fringe. The satchel was no longer your purely utilitarian bag from the 1950’s. (Note: it actually dates back to the 17th century but was most recently very popular in the 1950’s.)
With its renewed take on the old, the Cambridge Satchel Company and its Batchel went from a small in-home business to one that had Deane’s brand making and selling 1,000 bags a day. The original CSC bags retailed for just under $200 and were the must have bag for a number of fashion weeks beginning in 2011. And soon enough, everyone from “it” bloggers and fashion industry insiders like Alexa Chung and Brad Goreski (in his Rachel Zoe days) to models like Alessandra Ambrosio and other celebs (think: former One Direction member Zayn Malik and actresses Elle Fanning and Emma Stone) were toting the bag around. Hell, the brand’s bags were even on Gossip Girl – a testament to their status as a “must have” bag.
Cambridge Satchel has been so successful that it landed $21 million in finding, opened a number of brick and mortar stores, collaborated with some of the industry’s most famed designers and expanded their offerings. Much like the designers behind Mansur Gavriel have subsequently done, Cambridge Satchel’s Deane chose one market and really focused her energies there, before trying to dip into multiple markets for the sake of rapid expansion. So many young brands simply try to do too much too soon, spread themselves too thin, and struggle as a result.
This is something Mansur Gavriel is resisting. Their initial offering of goods consisted of two bags – the bucket and a tote. Interestingly, these are two styles that Coach has had in its repertoire for decades but has largely failed to make “it” bags in the way that MG has. The brand’s marketing strategy – which is discussed below – may be making all the difference.
Mansur and Gavriel have slowly expanded their collection to include other styles, but not many. This past fall, for instance, they debuted their first backpack, as well as a mini bucket bag. The same sleekness and almost completely logo-free look remained the same, as did the appeal. The backpack recently sold out within six minutes of being restocked on Mansur Gavriel's e-commerce site. All the while, the brand has been quietly expanding in other ways, namely by introducing new exterior and interior colors. Initial styles came in a blanched “camello” natural brown hue, or black, with a differing color patent leather interior coating. Contrast that with the existing color palette of white, powder pink, red, royal and navy blue for the exterior, and interior colors that include metallic silver, gold, pewter, vivid orange, royal blue and pink – just to name a few. They haven’t tapped into prints yet or metallic, save for collaborations with Opening Ceremony and Paris-based store Collete, which resulted in limited edition metallic silver and blue bags, respectively.
As for whether the design duo will be able to sustain Mansur Gavriel based on the appeal of their “it” bags, we don’t actually need to know. Instead of waiting for their brand’s buzz to die down, Gavriel and Mansur are taking the next step and that is footwear. As for what else will come of the brand, there are signs of womenswear, as Mansur and Gavriel designed the retro shift dresses worn by the models in their Spring/Summer 2016 presentation. But don’t expect a full ready-to-wear collection just yet. Mansur said if they do, in fact, take on garments, it would not be for a while. Their brand’s sales may have increased by over 350 percent in the past year, but the designers insist they will continue to mark new ground only very cautiously.
With all of this out of the way, though, one question remains and it isn’t one that has been given much attention by the press. Given the bags nearly constant sold-out status, it seems reasonable to wonder: Does Mansur Gavriel simply have a poor manufacturing structure in place? This is a common problem for young brands that blow up without warning and thus, without having planned how to fund and execute a dramatic increase in the volume of goods. Is the near constant "sold-out" status of the brand’s bags somehow the result of a deficient production/manufacturing structure? It could be, but the brand’s increase in sales revenue weighs strongly against it. (We reached out to the brand’s PR to have them confirm/deny this but never received a response.)
Even if the brand has its manufacturing game on lock, there is still the question of whether the wait list phenomenon and constantly sold-out status and the resulting hype and demand that surrounds the brand is little more than a marketing ploy. It has worked for Hermès, whose waitlist seems legitimate on its face to some extent if we take their construction and subsequent appreciation in value over time into account. Each Birkin bag is handmade by trained craftsmen (one individual per bag) and tend to take roughly 18 hours to make. The hides used to make the coveted bags must be completely untarnished and thus, prove to be made from rare materials. Moreover, Birkins (and Kellys) are one of few bags on the market that actually gain value and cost more at resale than initial point of sale. This makes them the utmost in choice items.
With this in mind, it is worth noting that much has been written to the suggestion that the brand’s Birkin bag “waiting list” is actually little more than a myth. You may recall that author Michael Tonello chronicled his many Birkin bag purchases in “Bringing Home The Birkin” – thereby, somewhat discrediting the notion that the brand was necessarily keeping customers waiting for years before delivery. Real or fictional, Hermes certainly has not significantly been harmed by the decades-long rumor. It is one of the few brands that has simultaneously managed the recessionary drop in spending and come out of many brand’s logo fatigue-induced revamping unscathed. It is also one of the few brands that has consistently reported sales growth over the past several years, which has been difficult for luxury brands.
But back to Mansur Gavriel. While its waiting lists are reportedly very real (and require you to give a credit card number), are they based on a legitimate need that could not otherwise be avoided? The brand’s designers have noted that they are in this for the long haul and thus, are not just out to make a quick buck off of their “it bags,” which is further indicated by their expansion into footwear. Slowly releasing a fixed number of bags out into the market place at any given time is not an uneducated move. If we look to some of the top luxury brand’s (LV, Gucci, Prada, etc.) biggest problems when it comes to bags, much of them stem from over-saturation of the market, the resulting logo-fatigue and a lack of consumer demand (as indicated by falling revenue). So, is the MG waiting list the ultimate marketing strategy?
*This article was initially published in November 2015.