Second Nature

Holding a Rafe Totengco bag
At HAND/EYE we love everything that spring brings: longer and brighter days, warmer temperatures, new growth in nature and color. It’s a season of transformation and renewal. Out with old and dark in with the new and bright. Among the many things that fall into the latter is fashion and its many accessories. We had the good fortune to interview designer Rafe Totengco, the force behind the gorgeous minaudieres and clutches that everyone seems to be talking about and coveting. 
HAND/EYE: Why did you choose to design minaudieres and clutches?
Rafe Totengo: Designing Spring Summer is second nature for me due to my upbringing in the tropics. I love working with straw, shell and snakeskin; using them in ways that show off their inherent quality. My minaudieres and clutches are all painstakingly hand-crafted and depending on the intricacy of the design can take four days to complete each one. [Editor’s Note: To watch the process see the video below.]
I appreciate the work and skill that is involved in creating each piece. The women who do my embroidery have been doing it all their lives and it’s a skill that has been passed down through generations. It makes me happy to know that through my designs this skill will hopefully continue to thrive and be passed down.
I’ve focused more on occasion and evening bags as my niche because that is where I’m seeing a lot of growth. The responses thus far have been very positive and in this retail climate that is a clear indication that I’m doing something right.
I work with different materials and artisanal techniques such as shell inlay, leather patchwork and hand-embroidery. My Rosie clutch is comprised of dyed abaca with hand embroidered motifs that range from flamingos and parrots to hibiscus flowers and daisies. Each of my bags take several days to complete because the techniques and processes are mostly hand-made.
H/E:  What’s the challenge behind designing clutches and minaudieres?
RT: I enjoy the challenge of designing accessories because they are ageless and for the most part, “one size fits most”. How will I catch your attention and make you smile. Every season I have to entice you to buy something you don’t need but want. This is the real challenge. When a woman considers a clutch or a a minaudiere she knows that she can’t fit her life in it so she has to edit: a cellphone, lipstick, some money and credit cards and maybe keys.
H/E: What’s in your new Spring/Summer 2018 collection?
RT: The Rafe New York Spring Summer 18 was a melange of disparate references from Slim Aaron’s book; “A Place in the Sun” and “Once Upon a Time”, Yves Saint Laurent’s muse Loulou de la Falaise, a Fauvist painting by Andre’ Derain titled “Madame Matisse au Kimono”, Victor Vasarely’s Geometric Art and a recent trip to Holbox in Mexico to see the flamingos in their natural habitat. Turquoise, green, coral, pink, blush, gold, black and white are the prominent colors of this season. Inspiration always comes from a variety of sources.
H/E: In one of your videos,you mentioned going to the tailor as a young boy and becoming interested in fashion and designing your clothes. Do you plan to expand your line and venture into other accessories and garments.
RT: I miss designing clothing and footwear, but handbags have monopolized most of my time and passion this past decade. It’s a one size fits most concept that has allowed me to develop new ideas and not get bogged down with size runs and loads of inventory. But, never say never.
H/E: If you weren’t  designing bags, what would you like design and why?
RT: ’ve always loved interiors and I find that I’m drawn to it more and more. When you’re envisioning a home you’re not thinking of what’s going to be on trend next season. A home is a personal and evolving collaboration between designer and home owner. I’m playing with some ideas for home furnishing but I’m in no rush.
H/E:  Who are your favorite five designers from the past and currently? What makes their designs so special?
RT: Dries Van Noten – He’s a colorist and singular in his vision. The way hemixes prints, references and embellishment is always fresh and unexpected.
Kenzo Takada – And I’m talking about the Kenzo from the 70s and early 80s.I loved his proportions, playfulness and prints! It was East meets West in the best possible way.
Christophe Lemaire – His clothes are so minimalist and modern. But lookncloser and each piece is full of thoughtful details and really well cut. Every time I’m in Paris I go to his store in the Marais because there’s always something that I cannot resist.
Consuelo Castiglioni of Marni – I have some of her printed shirts that I have worn for years and they still look as good as new. She had a great sense of color, proportion and prints. She marched to the beat of her own drum and stayed true to her aesthetic.
Miucca Prada – She’s irreverent and provocative. She presents ideas that may seem a little unsettling in the beginning but ultimately wins you over. I especially appreciate her eye for prints and embellishments.
To learn more about Rafe Totengco, visit his site at and his instagram @rafenewyork


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