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Magri- a story to tell. Interview with Isabella Ayoub



This story takes place in a small cafe in Manhattan, New York. That summer afternoon Isabella was escaping the heat by watching one woman after another with the same kind of bag. “There is an amount of IT-bags that each woman in modern society should have. Among those bags women lose their individual style” She took a napkin and started drawing her perfect bag…

How was your passion for handbags born?

The love story of MAGRÌ began with a sketch on a napkin. While standing at the bar at Sant Ambroeus in New York, I watched as all the chic women entered the crowded restaurant for their morning coffee carrying the same “It Bag”. It was a barren landscape of inspiration. Unable to find anything special or unique, my decision to design handbags was an organic evolution drawn from what I personally sought. Women who have everything, want to be set apart from the crowd. Handbags are a powerful communicator. I believe that a woman reveals her sense of style and intrinsic value through the accessories she selects. Although I have always had a passion for handbags, I never made a conscious decision to design them. I’m an architect, I design buildings, so I blame it on happenstance, or perhaps destiny. However, my napkin grew into a huge collection of handbags. My obsession gave birth to a new dream, which flourished into a career.

Why did you as an American decide to produce your bags exclusively in Italy?

I produce handbags in Florence because my goal has always been to create one of the finest products in the world. From the begining, Magrì exclusively partnered with Florentine manufacturers and artisans because together we share a common expectation of excellence. Affluent consumers worldwide want products which engender elements of cultural heritage with a European cachet. We all want to be romanced and to feel unique . As a consumer of “luxury goods” I personally refuse to invest in products outsourced to emerging markets. It seems so paradoxical. Let me ask you a question: Would you buy a Lamborghini made anywhere other than Italy?

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How did you find artisans in Florence to work with?

Through connections in Florence I was able to source manufacturers. The challange was to secure the working relationships. Florence is a very exclusive club that is not easily penitrable.

How has your experience as an architect influenced your creations?

Designing handbags is a natural extension of my architectural background. The approach and process of designing a bag is very similar to a building, as the function of an object naturally influences its form. The real magic is to capture a particular emotion through the design narrative; a vernacular expressed through the bag’s proportions, elegant construction and materials. As architect Mies van der Rohe once said, “God is in the details”.

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What does MAGRI mean?

Magrì is the DNA of my company. It’s not just a name but like the two-headed serpent it contains the duality of life, both a story and a dream. My Great – Great Grandfather Baldessare Magrì, a marble sculptor whose work adorns the Teatro Massimo in Palermo met his wife at her family’s marble factory. The family has long held onto the story of a romance that would eventually bring the couple and their children to America. As a young artist he arrived to the marble yard to choose the perfect stone for his next piece and left having met his future bride. During the 1900’s the couple left their native Palermo with their children for America booking passage on the ship used to transport their marble to the United States where they settled. The name is significant in my life because as my great great-grandparents did, I too must make my way in a foreign country. The name embodies not only my ancestral ties to Italy – to Palermo but is symbolic of starting my life over and creating something magnificent from the ashes of my past. When life required me to transform myself, and to begin anew I looked to my history and found inspiration and roots in a name – my name, MAGRÌ.

The emblem of the brand, the two-headed snake, what does it mean?


The iconic Magri logo of the two-headed serpent represents a woman’s inherent duality. She is complex, graceful, exciting and at the same time mysterious and dark. The Magrì woman is one who possesses a high level of culture and autonomy. She is sharply aware of the world around her and conscious of many things beyond the narrow confines of fashion. She is governed by her own rules of style; she values the timelessness of design and artistry of craft, and abhors fleeting trends. She understands that a beautiful accessory is just an object unless the wearer imbues it with her own personal qualities. So if a woman is to rule her world, then she certainly needs the right bag to communicate her intentions. In politics, an accessory is never just an accessory; it’s the instrument of an agenda.

In an interview ditto that the bags Magri ‘are created for a modern woman. And as’ the modern woman in your opinion? What is your relationship with this woman the bag?

The modern woman is defined by the rigorous demands of her quotidian life. She must seamlessly handle children, go to work, and sometimes end her day at an event. MAGRÌ handbags are designed for busy women who, like me, require practicality yet demand elegance. When I set out to design the collection I addressed all of my personal needs, in terms of function. Given, that I am raising three young children in New York City and travel internationally every few weeks, it was a key requirement for each handbag. An everyday work tote, a feminine version of an attaché case; a casual satchel, with room enough to carry my children’s things; an elegant luncheon bag; and an event bag that may be used day or night. What makes each MAGRÌ bag distinctive is the unusual combination of materials and color. Whether I choose my python work tote or my crocodile Lady Clare bag with jeans and a simple cashmere sweater, the bag always completes the look. Easy, chic … with an air of utter confidence!

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Why was Catherine the Great the muse for The Ekaterina Collection?

Catherine the Great is an extraordinary story of an obscure young German princess, from a minor noble family, who traveled to Russia at fourteen and rose to become one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Through sheer determination Catherine transformed herself and her adopted country of Russia into a cultural epicenter of Europe. It was during the design process of the collection that I was reading about Catherine the Great. I love to study history. The more I read the more I understood the person behind the empress. I remember thinking; she is the symbolic MAGRÌ woman. Catherine the Great’s life embodied the various aspects of a modern day woman; the cultivator, the muse, the mother; each of us the master of our destiny.

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How and ‘His relationship with Russia? Find that there are many things to be inspired in Russian history?

There is a Russian maxim “I’m so happy to be sad”. Contrary to Italian culture of La Dolce Vita, Russian literature and music flourished from a deep sense of loss and hardship. There is a different quality of depth in the Russian heart, which was born from a state of melancholia, her faithful mistress. For the artist, melancholia is an aesthetic emotion, a wellspring of all creative endeavors. It is the ability to translate both intellectual and spiritual matter, into an artistic medium that crosses the boundaries of countries and language. In 1992, as a young woman studying architecture, I had the pleasure of having dinner with Russia’s beloved poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. In my eyes, he was a flamboyant, romantic hero who personified the severe, full of dignity, beauty, of the Russia I admire.

In general, what inspires you?

Unique beauty, in all its forms.

You live between the United States and Italy. How do you organize?

A perfectly organized life starts with a perfectly organized agenda. I am obsessed with calendars, specifically my beloved Astier de Villatte. I have been buying them from Paris for years. Also a combination of discipline, dedication along with the love I possess for both my children and work. I am living my dream which is not to say that my life is easy or without many personal sacrifices. It is a tremendous amount of work combined with great passion that produces a product of substance and beauty. At the moment, the organization is small so I have become an expert at multi tasking. I have a fantastic team throughout Italy, and without their heartfelt dedication, expertise and involvement, Magrì would not exist.

What does the “Lady Clare” Bag represent to you?

I was honored by the US Embassy’s invitation to offer a bag in the name of Clare Boothe Luce. I chose one of the iconic bags from the Ekaterina collection, which has now been named the “Lady Clare” bag. Luce one of the great American success stories, embodied not only the best aspects of what it means to be ‘American’ but what it took to forge a path when the United States was still a man’s world.  Luce who was never content to sit on her laurels, proved she was not  another idle society matron whiling away her time between  husbands during an era when a woman’s life centered on her  marriage and family. An author and playwright not content to be a  spectator during World War II Luce sought to involve herself on a  larger stage working as a journalist who was sent to report from the  European Theater of war. Upon her return to the United States in  1943, she sought to make a difference. By becoming involved in  politics, she emerged from the war with strong principles and values  winning her a seat in the House of Representatives. Later, after  campaigning for Dwight D. Eisenhower he rewarded her by offering  her a position as Secretary of Labor, which she declined. He then  named her Ambassador to Italy, which she accepted. During her  ambassadorship Luce helped lay the diplomatic groundwork for an  international conference that worked out a compromise on the  status of Trieste, a dispute that threatened war between Yugoslavia  and Italy. By capitalizing on a chauffeur’s error when he dropped her  at the home of then President Giovanni Gronchi, she persuaded him to permit American troops to be stationed on Italian soil. Like Luce I have contempt for obstacles and have always lived by the proverb; anything is possible. The Lady Clare Bag aligns itself with the new mind-set of what luxury purchases mean. The paradigm has shifted away from things being solely emblematic of “who you are”, but rather of “who you aspire to be”.

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© 2015 Mila Anufrieva.