The latest gem in Italian fashion is brought to you by Maria Marigliano Caracciolo. The Italian founder and young entrepreneur has created Bags By M., a line of stunning customized book clutches made with the finest leather and silk by traditional bookbinding methods.
I found Maria’s book clutches while perusing The London Chatter‘s (blogger Kelly Eastwood) Instagram account. I’ve been a bookworm my entire life, devouring books whenever I have a spare moment, and when I found that these classics can now be immortalized into gorgeous personalized clutches, I had to know more. It turns out I wasn’t the only admirer of the brands. The Delevingne sisters, Chloe, Poppy, and the infamous supermodel Cara, are also huge fans, along with many other celebrities and It-girls around the world. A few emails later, I got in contact with the effervescent Maria herself.
Motivated, enthusiastic, and delightfully charming, Maria is an international powerhouse with a successful company under her belt – and she’s just getting started. In this interview, you will see not only her incredibly diverse background but also her dedication and passion for her work. What an inspiration! I so enjoyed discovering her answers to these questions and couldn’t be happier to share this with you. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Maria Marigliano Caracciolo of Bags By M.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself. What is your story before becoming a designer? We’ve read that your inspiration came from a moment on the Via San Biagio dei Librai, the street of book sellers, in Naples. What was it exactly that sparked the idea to create By M.?
I was born in Naples into a culturally mixed family: a French grandmother, an English grandfather, and the rest of them are very much from the south of Italy! At the age of 6, we moved to Belgium, and I went to the French school where I had my baccalaureate [finished high school]. My father was a lawyer, and for some reason everybody expected me to attend law school…
Once I was back in Italy, I enrolled in law school. At that time in my life, as with most teenagers, I didn’t really know what to do with my life. Once my university years were over, I quickly understood that codes, cases, and legislation could not be my future. I started new jobs and activities, including PR for Italian jewelry brands as well as personal shopping (I have always loved beautiful things!). I also worked for a foundation helping deaf children; at this time I learnt Italian sign language. Still now I feel very close to the deaf community, and I organise fundraising events dedicated to helping improve the lives of deaf children.
Despite my international background, and my current life moving between Rome and London, I have always kept a very strong link with Naples – a town where my family has a historical connection going back more than 4 centuries. All my life I wanted people from abroad to discover the culture and the beauty of my native town… Through my 100% ‘made in Naples’ creations, I am enticing the world with some of the the Neapolitan fantasy and savoir faire. There is still a long way to go, but it is fun!
It is a story that somehow has started a great number of years ago…In the heart of the old city, you can find my family’s home, called Palazzo Marigliano. The neighborhood is so old that if one digs deep down under our basement, it is possible to find Greek archeological objects (these are even pre-Roman, because Naples was part of the Greek Empire “Magna Grecia” before Rome became a significant city!). The street where the Palazzo is situated was the main commercial street of the ancient town. Everything in this area use to be dedicated to books. Books were the main commercial activity. The street was later named “Via san Biagio dei librai” translated the Street of Saint Blaise, protector of the booksellers. Nowadays, with the economic crisis and the encroachment of modernity, most of the traditional little bookshops have unfortunately not survived, but the area is still full of old world charm.
Following the important donations of books and records by members of my family, given to the government, Palazzo Marigliano was turned into the Archives Department of the town (surintendence). Inside the palazzo there is the most ancient typography of southern Italy- where Pablo Neruda used to publish while he stayed in Italy. Located in what used to be the stables, you can today find – still surviving – one of the best bookbinders in Italy. My love for books basically started before I was born! Naples has also a strong tradition of elegance and tailoring “sur mesure”: I’ve combined our book binding tradition as well as our fashion tradition to create a bespoke book clutch, made only with ancient tools, imagination and centuries of passion!
2. I adore the quality, the personalized aspect of the clutch, as well as the feminine detail like the bow on the bags. What do you love most about your book clutches?
What I like the most about my By M. book clutches is the history behind every single product we create: every book clutch requires between 6 to 8 hours of skilled craftsmanship. I personally know all the handcrafters who work in the bookbindery – I know their stories and how much of their life is invested in what they do.
I also like the personalization we offer to our clients. Every detail of the book clutches can be personalised according to preference, from the colour, material, decoration and of course, the title that you wish to carry with you. On the back cover, using the Latin “EX LIBRIS,” the reader’s name can be pressed in gold. This is possible because we do our book clutches one by one. Everything is made according to our customers’ wishes. I think our products are more than a fashion; the finished products represent a true expression of ourselves in an ironic, impudent and sophisticated way that conventional ‘fashion’ doesn’t often allow.
3. It’s so impressive that the traditional bookbinding technique is used in the making of your clutches. Could you describe this method?
By M. book clutches are created according to a centuries-long tradition developed in the area using only the finest leather, silks, and gold leaf. Every step of a book clutch’s construction is handcrafted – exactly as per the books of past centuries.
We do not use any electrical devices.
Even the gold decoration and writings are handmade. The artisans impress the letters, and the decorations on the leather by hand with the traditional Gold Leif technique. To decorate your book clutch, By M. offers a large selection of original puncheons and filigrees from the bookbindery, dating back two centuries. Every single detail of your book clutch is the result of a considered and informed choice.
4. The silk and the leather that By M. uses are of the highest quality. How do you choose your materials?
We only use the best leather available. It is very difficult to find good leathers being used in bookbindery nowadays. Funnily enough, for my Luxury Editions, in which I normally use bright colours, I need to travel to Paris to find them! For the inside pochette, I also choose fabrics that I buy during traveling such as some Indian silks that I brought back with me from Jaipur.
5. There are two editions, traditional, which is monochrome, and luxury, which is made with Parisian leather. What are the differences between the two?
I think that the two editions reflects two different approach: There are the “purists” who would go for the traditional edition because of the closeness to the book itself: the colours and the quality of leather we use in this range are the ones used also in traditional bookbindery. Those clutches looks so dramatically like a book that people genuinely ask me why I’ve brought a book to a dinner party! And then the luxury bi color edition is definitely more “malicious” with colors that embrace the fashion world.
6. Congratulations on your success! How did you feel when you first saw (and continue to see) celebrities photographed with your book clutches?
I don’t have a press department- as some journalists have recently asked for (this made me smile!). I do everything by myself. In fact, I have discovered celebrities on Instagram with my book clutches by complete chance! Of course I am thrilled! It is always unexpected, especially with Xenia Sobachak, a Russian “It Girl” with 510,000 followers on Instagram. I had no idea she was so popular when she ordered her book clutch from my website! The three Delevingne sisters have been very sweet too. I also have a French very well-known VIP who has recently asked for a personalized book clutch, but I can’t tell you the name as it is a gift for a special friend, and it is top secret!
7. What is your favorite book, and why?
Oh gosh! The million dollar question! Can I skip to the next one? The list is too long! Let’s say I personally like to wear il Gattopardo – an Italian classic.
8. What should one think of when designing their own book clutch?
You should think about the good memories associated with reading a favourite book and try to express them with the choice of colors and adornments.
9. Can you tell us a bit about the future collections?
For next summer, another By M. collection inspired by the South of Italy will be ready: there will be lots of erupting volcanos and clutches which look like fans – perfect for a hot hot summer!
10. You live between Rome and London, two amazing cities. Why have you chosen these two, and what are some of your favorite places in both capitals?
My family and my home is in Rome but London there is my love! In Rome I adore Via del Governo Vecchio and all its little boutiques and cafes. In London I love walking in parks, especially Richmond where it is easy to see deer and visit the Saatchi Gallery. When I miss Italy I go to a little restaurant called the Frantoio on the King’s Road!
Thank you so much, Maria, for this brilliant introduction to Bags By M. Be sure to follow Maria on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Order your own personalized book clutch on her site: http://www.bagsbym.com/.
Images compliments of Maria Marigliano Caracciolo