Mark Ketteringham by Aaydium
Making your Mark: Mark Ketteringham Visionary Designer chats with our international style correspondent, Aaydium, (above) in the heart of Bangkok’s fashion precinct.
(above): Meet the charming & super-talented luxury bag & accessory designer, Mark Ketteringham.
It’s 37 degrees outside and I rock up to my interview with Bangkok based bag designer, Mark Ketteringham, sweaty, thirsty and quite frankly, not looking my best but I think my Balenciaga sneakers save the day, yay! I’m really excited to meet Mark and check out his atelier and his work.
(above): Mark has a huge following of prestigious clients who come back season after season for his Monbag signature pieces.
Having previously met in London many moons ago and having been life long friends I can give you a sneak preview into Mark’s history in a nutshell!
Mark was born in Zimbabwe, (then Rhodesia) and spent the first thirteen years of his life living a happy colonial existence with his family. His mother, who’d had enough of life in Africa, set her compass north and ran away with Mark and his younger sister to England for a more stimulating life.
(above & below): Talk about life in the Fabulous Lane! Mark’s clients, including Madonna and Daphne Guinness, have worn his creations and he shared an apartment with Sophie Dahl back in the day.
(above) Mark’s World: Imagine sharing an apartment with “it girl,” Sophie Dahl and designing jewellery for Madonna and Daphne Guinness!
They arrived bang as the 80’s were kicking in and by his early teenage years Mark was seduced by music, fashion and youth culture. Dressing up and dancing his way through the London club scene, Mark soon made his circle of tight knit friends and by the 90’s he was sharing an apartment with Sophie Dahl and living life in the fabulous lane.
Mark carved out the early days of his career in the 90’s London fashion scene, working as chief jewellery designer for Erickson Beamon and collaborating with Agent Provocateur, McQueen, Berardi, Chanel, Dior, Dries Van Noten and Stephen Jones to name just a few.
Madonna and Daphne Guinness have both worn his creations. Mark worked on a few bag brands; Bracher Emden, Rouge Rouge and Tui before taking over the reigns at Monbag and Vassalinee.
(above): Mark Ketteringham designs luxury bags which are highly sought after around the world.
I walk into Mark’s atelier and I’m greeted with a loud, slightly austere greeting from the designer himself, Mark Ketteringham:
Mark: “Lovely to see you dear, would you like a drink?” Aaydium: “Yes, I’d love an iced sparkling water please.” M: “Take a seat; I’ll be with you in a sec.” I sit down on a zebra print chair and we make some small talk before steam-rolling right in. A: “Let’s talk bags! How are your bags doing? Do you have a big following here in Bangkok?” M: “For now we’re focusing on the local market so yeah we’re really being picked up and have a huge base fan following us. Vassalinee is sold exclusively online and our bags have a great sell-through; every item is sold-out!”
M: “Monbag has a different sales strategy which we are developing now but both brands have a steady following and are gaining momentum. Our plan is to go international; we’re showing in Paris next season… very exciting!”
A: “Do current global issues have any impact on your work?”
M: “Yes of course they do. Previously we’ve made bags from exotic skins and leather but now I’m producing an ecopositive collection. We’re also doing hand painted slogans and symbols on tote bags referencing recycling and plastic consumption and related themes. Each tote comes with a canvas bag to use when you go grocery shopping or whatever and a silicone reusable straw. So yes, I’m trying to put the message out there…it’s only a small part but you know, it’s contributing. I mean, designing bags serves a purpose but they can be used as a tool for things like that...”
A: “It’s great you’re encouraging people to warm to the idea of using silicone straws!”
M: “Yes and the canvas bags instead of plastic bags.”
(above): Mark Ketteringham's designs focus on quality, attention to detail and innovation.
A: “A bag having a slogan on it gets seen everywhere by everybody, so it has a lot of impact.”
M: “Yeah and then the bags and the slogans get all over social media. Thailand is really trying to catch up in terms of, you know, recycling and eco-friendly concepts. They don’t have enough information about these so every little bit helps. Thailand has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and plastic is ruining them. It’s about making people more aware of how important their environment is.
We may move on to produce a collection with vegan, mushroom or pineapple leather. We’ll see how the Vassalinee capsule eco-collection goes and react to the response of our clients. I can change things... slowly. I noticed lots of big brands are stopping using fur now; Gucci and Versace just did it. It’s moving in the right direction. Our signature bag, Brodie, last season had fur pom poms and this season we’re repeating again but with faux fur.”
A: “Those little steps increase awareness and make people start thinking about it, like planting a seed and watching how it grows.”
M: “Yes baby steps.”
A: “And how about Monbag?”
M: “Our two brands Monbag and Vassalinee are very different. Monbag is made from exotic skins; we always produce in crocodile and snake and other animals. Next season we’re importing lizard from Africa, as you can’t buy it here. We’re one of the only companies in Thailand using lizard. We’re making lots of little bags in different colors. Monbag has a mature, affluent female client.”
A: “So the current collection you’re working on, tell me about it.”
M: “For Vassalinee I’m working on Spring Summer 2019, basically rock chick and ‘Studio 54.’ Vassalinee is a very young and street wise… kinda ‘rock n roll.’”
(above): Mark's bags show his versatility as a designer with options for all tastes and ages.
A: “Yeah, I love your bags, very colorful, highly embellished, fringing, studding and interchangeable straps. They have a strong,stylised street (I-know-it-girl-don’t-mess-with-me) vibe.”
(above): The range can be worn by day or night with ease.
M: “The last collection was based on punk, studded leather jackets, this collection is going to have a feel of rock but it’s going to be done in two and three tone colours. Bright pink and yellow, navy and green... and it will have little hardware elements that will make it more punky.”
A: “How does Studio 54 come into that?”
M: “Oh, it’s the disco! We got these new leathers they’re reversible the colors are on both sides, pink on one side and the other side is pink glitter.”
(above): Studs and animal print are the perfect accompaniment for leather and tulle.
A: “So how do you multi task on two collections at the same time?”
M: “It’s difficult because I’ll design a bag for Vassalinee and it’s so cute and then I’ll ask myself is this good for Monbag? Both bags are under one roof but with a different audience, they’re linked like Prada And Miu Miu, so I want to get the same kind of feel but have to think about so many different ideas at the same time.
A: “Tell us about your creative process.”
M: “Always with design, same as when I designed jewellery, I start off with an idea - a feeling that I want to convey. I do a lot of research, using old photos, old videos…I look at people on the street and I watch movies. I make the first sample, check proportions and mistakes... sometimes I incorporate the mistake into the design if it works! Then a second sample is made to refine ideas and then try to make it more interesting or more functional. It’s all about functionality these days; our clients love multi pockets and zips.”
(above): Mark's designs include bold colours, studs and innovative detailing.
A: “Clients want to get the best value for their money, plus they want their bag to have the aesthetics, they want it to be durable and functional. They’re selecting their pieces a lot more wisely these days and I’m into that idea. Choose well, consume less.”
(above): Mark's aesthetique appeals to discerning fashionistas who crave unique design.
M: “Well I’ve been with the company now for two years and I try to keep the design aesthetic the same but with a higher design factor. I don’t want to lose the brand’s client base because they’ve been going about five years now and have a huge following. That’s why I repeat the Brodie bag each season because it’s a client’s favourite and replacing tassels with chain but always keeping the classic design.”
(above): This rose-themed bag is offset by studs and chains to unmissable effect.
A: “Any recognition from neighbouring Asian countries?”
M: “Actually we were just chosen by the Japanese Ministry of Commerce to have a pop-up store in Tokyo to promote Thai brands in Japan. Lots of brands entered and we were one of the top five to be chosen so we’re going to be selling a limited edition of the Brodie bag in many colors.”
A: “Good luck with that. How many collections are you producing a year?”
M: “Between Monbag and Vassalinee about eight collections but I also design limited editions and capsule collections, (for example I’m working on an eco collection now that’s an entirely new collection for Vassalinee).”
A: “So what fuels you to keep going season after season? How do you keep coming up with ideas? What is it that stimulates you? Is it living in Bangkok?”
M: “It’s living in Bangkok, yes, but having worked as a designer for many years, I keep up with fashion and follow world events. I see what’s happening on the street.”
A: “But what gives you that buzz? Are you a dreamer, a fantasist or is it your lifestyle?"
M: “My boss, Vassalinee Arayakosol, the Creative Director and owner of the company, is a great source of inspiration to me. She used to be a lawyer but started a bag brand because she loved bags and now has multi projects going on at the same time and works in skin care too. Oh… and she’s a mother and a lover, with two children! We work very closely together and I help bring her ideas to reality. And you know I just love what I do; I get the greatest satisfaction when I see the collection in front of me, ready to got out there and just seeing clients buying our stuff and loving it. I have a passion for it, I love my job. I love doing what I do.”
A: “You’re very lucky, privileged!"
M: “Yes but it’s very, very hard work. People think it’s easy to design a few bags but I wake up during the night thinking about a design and have to sketch it so I don’t forget it! It’s a non-stop process.”
Next up, I ask Mark about the contents of his own bag!
(above): What’s in Your Bag? What do the contents of Mark’s bag reveal about him? With the bare essentials, everything is do-able! So when I asked him,“What’s in your bag?” and, “Could you open it all out onto the table and show me?” Mark replied: “Oh my God it’s full…there’s a cotton tote bag, a sketch pad, a small notebook, some cigarettes, a coin purse, my wallet, riding gloves, some Vitamin C, turmeric tablets, some other supplements, sunglasses, reading glasses a few packs of chewing gum and a Stays moisturiser!”
A: “I loved your previous collection inspired by Russian tattoos and you yourself have a collection of tattoos. Let’s talk tattoos!”
M: “I had my first tattoo twenty years ago in India, based on a Japanese samurai symbol. I only wanted it the size of the palm of my hand but it ended up taking over the upper part of my back, which I didn’t want, but I let him do it.”
A: “Wow, that was very risqué!”
M: “Yeah and painful, with thirty hours of pain in the hot sweaty climate of India. When I moved to Bangkok I was inspired by Russian tattoos and always wanted an epaulet so I did that. Then I got my cat on my arm and then Kailee the Indian Goddess on my stomach. I’m doing this in my 50’s; usually it’s your 20’s!”
A: “Starting your journey into tattoos in your 50’s isn’t such a bad idea. Imagine what you would have done in your 20’s! You might regret it now.”
M: “Absolutely. I’m regretting the Japanese tattoo from India already! I want to have more tattoos on my back so you don’t notice it as much.”
A: “Technology, how are you coping, LOL… I think there are amazing advantages with technology, but I wanted to ask you about the notion of ‘access not ownership’ how it’s encroaching on our lives, friendships and family relationships are becoming like that. Our homes could become like that, where the interior becomes anywhere in the world from a desert island to a forest through technology built into the structure.”
M: “I was born in Africa, where TV started at 5PM and there were actually only black and white TV’s. When I moved to the UK I couldn’t believe they had colour TV’s! I didn’t know such a thing existed. Now kids now have X Boxes, iPads…everything. From five years old they’re recording their entire lives and they can grow up and record everything using Snap Chat and Facebook. I still like sketching because I don’t have great computer skills.... but I sketch on my phone! I don’t think about technology to be honest. I just carry on the way I’ve always done. Of course I don’t own any CD’S, photos or videos anymore and I’ve lost half my photographs. I don’t have those things anymore. It’s all online so yes I would say access not ownership is taking over!”
A: “How about technology and work?”
M: “Technology is great for our brands and on our fan page our clients can upload pics of themselves with our bags and we make comments, so it’s direct communication. You know, it’s like developing a very close relationship. They give us suggestions for designs and we try to incorporate their feedback into our products. Everything is so immediate now, with live fashion shows and Instagram.”
A: “How about online shopping?”
M: “We have embraced online shopping more and more to the point where we’ve actually closed down all our retail stores. No more bricks and mortar. It’s been a big move for us but we are now 100% online based and it’s really working out well.”
A: “That is a big step but if it’s working for you then you made the right decision based on your clients’ shopping habits. So Mark, some parting words of wisdom?”
M: “When I left school I was fifteen years old and I never graduated, plus, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I had no idea. I was modelling, hair dressing for a while, a makeup artist and then I started doing jewellery. I never planned any of it, as I was just always interested in design and I don’t think you need an education to be creative. Just do what you want to do and be yourself.”
A: “It’s been great chatting with you, thank you!”
M: “Thank you so much! I can’t wait to read the interview.”
I grab my stuff, order a cab and make some more thank yous and goodbyes before being bestowed with a gift. Mark gives me a cute Vassalinee bag! Seriously... how charming is that? No sooner am I jumping into the taxi than I’m emptying the junk from my old bag and stuffing it into my new bag. And you know something; this bag is really f*cking cool! I love my job.