Samar Sharbatly sees herself as a citizen of the world; she has been living abroad since she was a little girl. The Saudi fashion designer used to live in London and now lives in Beirut, which she sees as one of the most cultured cities of the world. It inspires her, and Sharbatly believes it perfectly combines the East and the West.
Arab News had a one-on-one with the Saudi handbag designer, asking her about her start in the fashion world and what attracted her to it.
Arab News: How did you get your start in designing, and what have you learned over the course of being a designer?
Samar Sharbatly: “I have always been interested in fashion and style. Fashion has an unbelievably seasonal fast track of trends. It’s very expensive to keep up with these trends, so I got the idea of creating a timeless collection with long-lasting value and endless style, which can be dressed up or down depending on the outing or occasion.
Did you have any background in design or manufacturing before you began?
Yes, I had a previous experience in designing a line for handmade clothes, which was called “S Couture”, where I used to create different designs and prints, followed by embellishing the pieces with Swarovski crystals.
What sort of comments do you get about your designs?
It depends on the item. Some say elegant, or stylish yet classic. Others say trendy, fashionable, and reasonably priced.
Why did you start doing what you do? And why did you choose to design handbags instead of clothing?
I wanted to do something different that blends with and compliments today’s lifestyle and fashion trends, yet keep the classiness and luxury of the exotic leather goods I use, such as crocodile and python skins.
What made you decide to start your own line instead of going the more traditional path of designing for an existing label?
I’ve always dreamed of having my own line in fashion, and I believe that when you represent your own company, which holds your name and reflects your identity, you consequently work very hard to make it grow and glow no matter how hard it gets. The results of creativity and effort are what matter to me the most.
Tell us about your design process from concept and production to the shelves.
The process starts with choosing the crocodile and python colors and skins. Secondly, I start the designing process with all the measurements and details to thread the color to the interior finishing. After this process is done, each item is carefully and delicately made by hand.
From your opinion, what are the essential requirements handbag designing companies need to take care of?
They should take care of the quality of leather, perfection of the design, comfort, and making sure the collection is fashion forward yet suitable for all seasons.
How do you think your brand has developed?
It has developed immensely, since there are more styles and more stockists from different parts of the world every season.
What’s your best seller right now? Tell us more about it.
My best seller bag is called “Lady SMR”. It is a bag that can be carried during the day and in the evening.
When dressing for a night out, what comes first for you: the outfit or the bag? What is your personal style?
The bag, because I believe that simplicity is the key to an outfit, so I like my bag to stand out.
How can you predict which designs will be in most demand in the future?
I think life’s pace is getting faster as we speak! Ladies want to look elegant and stylish, but can’t spend as much time getting ready to go out as they used to, so they want an easy-to-wear bag with a twist. This is the bag of the future.
What fashion faux pas do you avoid?
I avoid being overdressed. I believe simplicity is the key to sophistication, and as they say: ‘Less is more!’
How do you feel seeing someone random wearing your designs down the street?
I feel very happy, and all the stages of creating that bag cross my mind. It makes me feel very proud of my work and its results.
Which celebrity, dead or alive, would you like to see wearing your bags the most? Why?
I would’ve loved to see Lady Diana carrying one of my bags – I absolutely admired her – as well as Queen Rania (of Jordan). I love her style and how elegant she was, and she carrying my bag would’ve made it known internationally.
Which city in the world epitomizes you and your designs? Do you plan for your handbags to reach there?
London with being funky and daring, and also Paris with being elegant and classy. Yes, I’m planning to expand everywhere.
What inspires you and your designs?
Everything in life inspires me: family, friends and street style.
What are the pros and cons of being a handbag designer?
The pros are seeing SMR brand become successful and known, given all the competition going around. I don’t see any cons in being a handbag designer. It’s great to be busy and exploit talents. The worst thing that can happen to a handbag designer is being copied, but looking at it from the bright side, I see it as a sign of success and recognition.
Do you follow international trends, or do you come up with your own trend?
I have to keep up with the trends going on internationally, yet I try to be different. I also exclusively custom make any model a customer requires, from handbags to accessories.
Are you adept at handling different forms of materials?
I’ve only worked with exotic leather, such as crocodile and python, which were the identity for SMR since I started. I’m working now on new designs with Ostrich skin, and hopefully I’ll be introducing different materials soon.
What are the various types of materials you require for handbag designing?
Apart from the skin, we use cow leather and suede.
Samar is now working on designing luggage and office accessories, which will be launched next summer.
SMR can be found in “Mahat” (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia), “Avenue Collection” in Al-Aali Mall (Bahrain), “Label Queen” (Beirut, Lebanon), “Maria Pino” in ABC Store (Beirut, Lebanon), “Kulte” (Beirut, Lebanon), and “Dados” (Doha, Qatar).