This liberal attitude towards design is born of Ray’s decade-long journey through the world of luxury, which has seen her work in various different areas of the industry. “I planned to be a couture designer and ended up designing shoes, then I planned a future in shoes and ended up designing bags,” she explains. “That’s when I realised that I never really let myself go – I plan too much. I figured, when I just relax and trust my years as a designer, my knowledge and skill, that’s when I’ll be able to open the Pandora’s box and discover what I am capable of.” Letting go of both her own expectations of what kind of designer she should be, as well as any fixed idea of what luxury design should look like, has enabled Ray to design some of the most fun bags available on the luxury market, from items made in metallic pink leather topped with shooting star handles, to silver crocodile designs embellished with clusters of crystallised butterflies.
AN UNEXPECTED DIRECTION
However, Ray’s confident designs betray nothing of her unexpected journey into handbag design. “I set my heart on becoming a couture designer when I saw John Galliano’s first collection for Christian Dior when I was eight years old,” says Ray. “Years later, upon graduation, I secured an internship at China’s best couture house, but after the internship something didn’t feel right, so I followed my heart and travelled to London to study footwear design at London College at Fashion.” From there, Ray embarked on a year-long internship designing shoes at Alexander McQueen, a placement that turned out to be the most formative of her career. “I would say my experience at McQueen was the biggest influence on my career and forged the foundation of my style,” says Ray. “It was very intense, not everyone survived it, but I learned so much.”
From there followed a further placement at Jimmy Choo and, buoyed by her success, Ray decided to found her own footwear business, taking her designs to luxury trade shows in Paris and London. “I didn’t sell a single pair of my shoes,” says Ray. “It was a really traumatic experience.” However, despite the setback, a small miracle unfolded, signposting the way towards Ray’s future career. “In among the dozens of shoes I had on offer, I had created one handbag which I had never expected to sell, priced at £12,000,” she says. “A lady from a boutique in Qatar fell in love with it and bought four for her store. I was gobsmacked – I had only intended it to be used as decoration for the stand.” Following a frantic brainstorm with her sales director, Ray decided to change the direction of her brand completely. “I had gambled almost all of my financial resources on the shoe business, but we decided to give it one last try, this time with handbags,” says Ray. “If it didn’t work out, I didn’t have any more resources, so I gave it everything I had.”
What followed was 10 of the most intense days of Ray’s career, where the designer was tasked with creating her first-ever handbag collection in record time. “We decided to switch to handbags in March 2016, and needed everything completed in time for the fashion calendar in June,” says Ray. “Every day I would wake up at 5.30am, start designing, leave 20 minutes for lunch and go to bed at 11.30pm. At the end of the 10 days, I forwarded the designs to the factory – and the rest is history.” By August that year, Harvey Nichols had taken its first order from Ray, and the designer’s inventive new take on luxury had proved a success. “The whole thing was a total surprise,” she confesses.
Ray’s intuitive journey into handbag design has set the tone of her business, which remains open-minded, creative and forward thinking, ignoring wider fashion trends to create something that will bring endless joy, throughout every trend cycle. “I don’t study what is on trend because anything that’s hugely popular in the moment tends to fade away faster,” says Ray. “I am inspired by Dior’s timeless elegance – trends come and go, but Dior is still eternally beautiful.” Ray ensures she creates successful, long-lasting designs by taking the necessary time to create something completely new. “I agreed with the point Raf Simons made when he was leaving his post as Creative Director of Dior,” says Ray. “He said that today’s designers don’t have the time to incubate their designs, which is a real problem as you need that time to reflect on what you’ve done and amend it to make it better – that’s how you generate timeless designs.”
In accordance to this, after the initial flurry of her first collection, Ray is adamant about taking the time to reflect carefully on each of her designs. “Every piece I release has sat on my sketchbook for at least three months,” she explains. “I incubate my designs so that everything that is produced has stood the test of time. Designers nowadays are told to create 100 thumbnails in just a few weeks, but how can you come up with inspiring things when you don’t have time to be inspired? It’s why today’s trends come and go so fast, because what you’re seeing are products that designers aren’t really sure about, meaning they change their minds again in a few months.”
FUN MEETS FASHION
As a result, Ray’s designs are as exciting on the day you first purchase them as they are on the hundredth time you pick them out of your wardrobe. At the heart of this is a child-like sense of fun that is impossible to resist – bag designs that feel like something you dreamed of owning as a little girl. “I love kawaii and my studio is full of plush toys,” explains Ray. “That part of me never went away and I didn’t want it to because I think children have an ability to create without all the noise of the adult world crowding their heads. I think such noise is a terrible disruption for designers or artists.” Freeing herself from such constraints has enabled Ray to unlock her creativity, and she hopes her designs will offer a similar sense of freedom to her customers. “I hope more customers will have the courage to let go of the idea of how a label will make you look,” she says. “I’m aware that when you shop, you hope that a certain logo will make you feel like you’ve ‘made it’, but I hope my designs are fun and interesting enough that they give my customers permission to let go of that.”