As a child living behind the Iron Curtain, designer Irina Bragin marvelled at the magical world of eccentric English nanny Mary Poppins. So it comes as no surprise that it was Poppins’ infamous bottomless carpet bag that was perhaps one of the biggest inspirations behind Bragin’s label Made of Carpet. The bags that make up her first collection might not be able to encompass a table lamp, mirror and coat stand like that of her literary hero, neither do they come complete with all singing, all dancing cockney chimney sweeps, but what the designer hopes is that her creations will immediately evoke the nostalgia of days past.
Each ‘Made of Carpet’ piece is described by Bragin as “the real thing”. The collection, which encompasses 4 styles in a variety of fanciful pattern and colour ways, is entirely woven from genuine Oriental rugs, which Bragin believes differentiates the brand from others on the market. Her take on this almost forgotten accessory blends the multicultural influences of her background with the quintessentially Poppins-esque culture of Belgravia, Knightsbridge and Kensington and aims to reinvent a style that has been “patiently awaiting renaissance”.
Bragin has long since settled in London having lived in six countries on three continents and hopes that her collection will appeal to the “independent yet elegant” woman of today. I met with the idiosyncratic redheaded designer to talk about the concept and found out why she wouldn’t mind being remembered simply as “that funny lady with the bags made of carpet”.…
What was the starting point for ‘Made of Carpet’?
To be honest my design process was quite the opposite of how designers usually work. Usually ideas are sketched first and subsequently materials are found and the designs are created. I needed to research the materials and processes first and to find suitable technologies that would work with the material I wanted to use. The designs for the bags came at a later date due to the restrictions of working with such full-bodied carpet; it took about 2 months of experimenting to reach the final product. I didn’t have any experience in the actual bag making process before so it was important to find the right team to work with. Each element of the bag is made by a specific professional within the production team and all of my bags are produced within the European Union.
What makes them different from the other carpet bags on the market?
I have no real competitors in Europe; there are other people who make so-called “carpet bags” but they are not made from real carpet, just some cheap alternative. I’m using genuine Oriental carpet for this first collection as this kind of design was predominant within the Victorian era, but I will certainly experiment with other types for the next collection.
Even though you were born outside of the U.K there is a real ‘Englishness’ about the designs….?
Yes, Mary Poppins was one of the first books I read and I love it very much. It will be my favourite fairytale forever. The idea that you can have this fantastic bag that you can put your whole life into was therefore the idea behind my collection. I’ve always had huge bags! A few years ago a lady needed her bag for make up and her purse but now you need it for a laptop, mobile phone, camera etc. Many of my buyers are stylish young mums too, as the bags are big and durable enough for all your baby equipment.
Nostalgia and historical references seem to also be important?
Yes definitely. I am not a huge fan of many contemporary designs, they seem cold to me. The idea behind Made of Carpet was to create an accessory that makes your appearance warmer. Whatever you are wearing, black, silver, if you take a carpet bag, your look becomes warmer and softer, more approachable.
Who were you thinking of when designing the bags? Who was your muse?
Too be honest I’m very egotistical, I was thinking about myself and the kind of bag I would like to carry!
When did you and fashion first meet?
I was raised in the Soviet Union and when I was growing up it was a very difficult time for the country, we had literally nothing in the shops. So if you managed to get a piece of fabric you had to make stuff yourself. I had a sewing machine from the 50’s which I modernized myself and I made everything myself because that was the only way you could get garments that you actually wanted to wear. That’s how it all started. I had no formal training, my granny taught me to sew, but I have a strong background in graphic design.
How have your travels inspired you?
Wherever I go I always try to find my own style within the boundaries of the countries specific dress code. I think if you want to connect with people you need to respect their traditions, so that has inspired me.
What designer would you like to meet?
That’s tricky because a talented designer might not necessarily be a nice person and someone I would want to have a conversation with and vice versa. But to work with it would be Christian Lacroix because of his elegance. He manages to make things that are striking but elegant at the same time, which is a difficult feat.
Your favourite movie, singer, place and animal?
My favourite movie has to be Overboard with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, my favourite singer is Amy Winehouse, my absolute favourite place is Boston because of its openness and friendliness and my favourite animal would be my ginger cat Leopold!
Your most prized piece within your own wardrobe?
I take my own bags out all the time, I don’t use any other bags anymore really. And If I could wear an Indian Sari everyday I would – bright, rich in colour, silky feminine. I love the way they look.
How have social networking sites and online media affected you?
I have a full time job as well as my design career so it’s difficult to keep up sometimes. I find Facebook useless but I use Twitter and Linked In and some Russian sites too. My target market is perhaps a slightly older demographic so perhaps don’t use Facebook on a regular basis. I like Twitter though because I can share the things I like easily with the rest of the world, maybe people listen, maybe not, but it gives me a chance to express myself online.
What are you hopes and ambitions for Made of Carpet?
Well looking at Louise Vuitton for example, in the 1990s nobody knew much about him and look what he has achieved with his bags in 15 years. So to be somewhere of that stature would be my goal. I think I have the business acumen and knowledge that many designers lack and I take care of that side of the business myself. I’m selling my bags on my website at the moment but I’m talking with some big European wholesale buyers at the moment. I want them to be considered a high end product because they are real luxury bags with haute couture detailing.
How would you like to be remembered?
One of my suppliers calls me “that funny lady with the carpet bags!” So that seems pretty fitting!
The bags are stocked and available to buy online at MadeofCarpet.com