Taking flight: Barbara Rihl comes to Malaysia

  • Style
  • Tuesday, 08 Apr 2014

Designer Barbara Rihl’s travel-themed brand is set to launch at the brand new KLIA2.

A JOURNEY of a thousand miles begins with a passport, some foreign currency, a suitcase, comfortable shoes and a warm scarf; and (most of the time) ends with happy memories, passport stamps, souvenirs and hundreds of photographs. Also, you’ll need a good bag to carry it all.

Her love for travelling drove Austrian-born, Paris-based designer Barbara Rihl to create bags inspired by holidays in foreign countries, in the form of quality leather decorated with playful drawings and prints, witty patchwork and handwritten messages.

Rihl’s creations have crossed the globe and have found their way to our shores, with one corner already in operation in Kuala Lumpur International Airport and a brand new store set to open in KLIA2 in May.

“I like to communicate positive feelings,” said the upbeat and enthusiastic designer during an interview in Paris, France, recently. “I think it’s important to give something to people, make them dream and to always choose the positive.”

The former Kenzo jeans collection director who was previously a student of Karl Lagerfeld and Jil Sander, decided she wanted to become a designer at 15. She went on to Parsons School of Fashion New York, worked in Hong Kong for three years under business magnate Allan Zeman and has since established herself as a true Parisian designer.

Lucia flying to Tuscany

“When I started to do my bags, people thought I was a bit crazy. But they liked it. Lagerfeld when he was my teacher, said: ‘develop your own style, and follow your own path’,” shared Rihl, who comes from a family of lawyers who love art, music and travelling.

“I didn’t care at all about what people thought, I just followed my path like a horse that has the ‘things’ at the side (blinders). I never, ever looked right or left, never. I think it’s really the only way to exist,” she added.

Cartoon figures, patchwork and embossed detailing tell stories of travel and all the elements that come with it – passport stamps, postcards, cameras, airplanes, luggage tags, boarding passes, taxi stands, padlocks and messages like “Wish you were here” make Rihl’s work instantly recognisable.

At first glance, her unique and quirky designs may seem like a lot to take in, but these aren’t just random images thrown together, as each bag’s design is well thought-out and tells a specific story.

Drawings of a group of girlfriends riding in a convertible along the beach, a couple with arms around each other staring out into a beautiful scenery, pilots and flight attendants and tourists pulling their luggage over zebra crossings in busy cities give you a warm feeling, and anyone who has ever looked for an adventure in a foreign country will find these images pleasantly familiar.

Even the way they are presented in her airport corners – hanging from hotel concierge-like trolleys – were designed by Rihl with travelling in mind.

Romy in Megeve

“I do collections that communicate positive feelings and good humour, I like poetry, music, travelling, art, architecture but mostly poetry and music because they can make you escape. Travelling is all that, it’s poetic, it’s communicating, so that came quite easily and all my collections are influenced by travelling and meeting people and sharing,” said Rihl, who hides positive messages in some bags to brighten the buyer’s day.

Naturally, the travel theme drew airlines, airports and hotels to approach Rihl to set up corners in their spaces and to work together on limited edition collections.

The brand has collaborated with 15 airlines, has corners in 36 airports and is available in select five-star hotels, private yachts and cruise ships. While the products are available online, they remain somewhat exclusive as they are only sold on the Barbara Rihl e-store and three other carefully selected sites.

The brand has two boutiques in Paris, but is focusing on their corners around the world and limited edition collaborations.

“What makes them special is that we do small series that have a lot of different stories, most bags tell a story. I always have to make up a story for myself just to be enthusiastic,” said Rihl.

Her Fall/Winter 2014 collection is called “I fell in love” and includes drawings of couples enjoying themselves on holiday.

“This season is about falling in love, because it’s a great thing, and everyone wants to fall in love when you’re travelling.”

If sketches and multi-coloured items aren’t your thing, this collection presents many more options – from mono-coloured chic wallets to drawstring bucket bags with animal print detailing and tan messenger bags with a pop of colour on the handle, strap or flap. One thing’s for sure, none of Rihl’s designs are boring, plain or serious.

“I have always tried to find new ways of doing things and in our lives we always try to find new creative ways to not be bored with ourselves, so we don’t bore others,” says mother-of-two Rihl, who is married to “Macaron King” Pierre Hermé. “The most important thing is to never be bored with oneself.”

The brand also includes other items like scarves, ballerina flats, umbrellas, tablet covers and cosmetic bags – anything you can associate with travelling, and men’s products are now available as well.

While drawings and sketches may appeal more to a younger market, Rihl believes her products are for anyone, regardless of age or background.

“There are many people who wear Chanel and also my bags, my things are really timeless, they are easy to wear, and there is something for everyone.”

Her collections don’t seem to fit in any category – there’s the fun and playful vibe in the drawings, but practicality and functionality in the designs that make them ideal for travel. However, being in this unique postion may very well work in her favour given the direction fashion is headed – with a growing number of interseasonal collections, even trends are disappearing.

“I think fashion is very global, there are no real seasons anymore and no really strong tendencies. Trends are disappearing, seasons disappear because we travel a lot, one day we are in the sun one day in the snow, and people don’t really have the same way of shopping either.”

With such a wide range of designs, and sturdy, quality products made to weather any season and survive multiple trips, Rihl’s travelling bug seems set to spread to all corners of the earth.

Barbara Rihl is currently available at Fashion Emporium, Contact Pier, KL International Airport and will soon be available at Ladies Fashion Walk, International Departures, KLIA2.

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