When wordsmith Paulo Coelho penned his now famous saying, "The world lies in the hands of those who have the courage to dream and who take the risk of living out their dreams — each according to his or her own talents," he wasn't referring to Emanuela Barnaba. But yet, the enterprising Italian's journey can be so succinctly summed up in those words.
Despite her background in business administration, Barnaba has always yearned for a foothold in fashion. Letting passion lead the way, it's taken her to where she is today — founder and designer of a bag and accessories label that specialises in exotic skins and unique shapes that put the cookie cutter mould to shame.
Born in Rome, raised in Cairo, setting roots in London and roaming the world in between, it's this nomadic spirit of Barnaba that creeps into the very essence of the label. Harnessing her trials and travels into exquisitely made handbags, we find out just how these luxuriously elegant pieces and their wordly inspiration defy time, age, and conventions.
Tell us about your travel experiences and how they manifest in your designs.
I consider myself very lucky. Since I was a child, I've had the opportunity to travel extensively, being exposed to different cultures, people and places as a result. Each and every trip left my heart full of emotions — joy, surprise, and the extraordinary feeling of discovery; a reason why I believe the world is so beautiful is that it's so vastly different. Spending my childhood in Cairo had a big influence on my background. I learnt from an early age the importance of being in contact with different cultures and what it meant to respect and learn from them. My love for ancient Egyptian culture shines through in the way I gravitate towards exotic materials. The colours and vitality of each place I visit during my trips inspire my mixture of colours and textures. And then the stitching on my bags remind me of the way clothes and items used to be stitched in ancient Rome.
What sets the brand apart from other labels that specialise in exotic skins?
Nowadays, in a world where everything is standardised, and made in series with big productions in cost effective ways, I felt the need of going back to tradition. Going back to giving the utmost attention to a product, infused with the love and legacy of generations of craftsmanship. This way, I believe that every piece has a 'soul'. That's what sets us apart. I think we really need to stop for a second and get back to pure and simple things; things made with passion and love. Our bags have that to offer.
We love that each and every one of your bags are numbered.
It can be said that each piece is unique in its own way as it's all handmade and done in small productions. The number inside the bag highlight this uniqueness, letting its wearer know just how special it is; a little treasure that she can hold and take care of for life.
If you had to pick, which would be more important to you: Aesthetics, or practicality for the user?
Being a designer, I would have to say aesthetics. My bags have to be beautiful. However, I think that they could be practical at the same time. When I design, I try to think at every occasion when the bag can be used and try to balance both qualities as best I can. For example, I added a chain strap to the Mary-Frances bag — which was born as a clutch — just so it could be slung if you're at a party and want to dance or eat.
Exclusivity is what I look for in a bag
A Guema Barnaba bag to me is... a little piece of art.
The favourite memory I have while carrying a Guema Barnaba bag... is when I wore my very first piece and was stopped by someone that loved the design and asked where it was from.
Our bags are timeless because... I ensure my pieces are modern, yet classic. I aim to design bags that are not associated with a specific era, time and age. The durability of the material then guarantees its infinite life .
A Guema Barnaba bag has the ability to... transform any dressed down ensemble into one that's elegant.
Elegance to me is... a fine balance between being beautiful and irreverent.
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