Bags To Differ

by Lili Li
28 Jan 2019

Her training at Alexander McQueen and Jimmy Choo gave designer Ms. Ming Ray the confidence and skill to become an in-demand designer favored by royalty and international socialites

“After McQueen everything else is child’s play,” declares bag designer Ms. Ming Ray. We are examining her renderings at an invitation-only sale of her merchandize organized by Privato; the renderings are life-like, capturing the suppleness and texture of the leathers and the minutiae of the hand-applied embellishments. “At McQueen, we learned to render the product in the exact same way we want it to turn out. So that is a rendering, not a photograph,” she reminds me. “I will not send a rendering to a workshop and have the artisans try to interpret it.”

Ms. Ray took a long route to her career as bag designer, starting out in fashion design and an internship at celebrated couturiere Guo Pei’s studio. She decided to switch directions when she realized that fashion is dependent on many factors that are beyond the designer’s control, including who is wearing the garment. She wanted to be an artist who creates objects whose beauty remains whoever owns them.

After learning to design footwear at London College of Fashion, Ms. Ray spent years looking for a job. “I was filled with self-doubt and was unsure whether or not I was in the right profession.” But a make-or-break shoe design competition changed that. Although she did not make the cut, it got her designs noticed – enough to get an introduction to someone at McQueen’s for an apprenticeship.

At Alexander McQueen, Ms. Ray acquired a painstaking dedication to craftsmanship. The atelier was notorious for its rigorous discipline and demands, but anyone who managed to emerge from it was steeled to do battle in fashion. From there Ms. Ray picked up many skills, from jewelry design to embroidery, which now show up on her work. “McQueen shared projects with every department; it was a small team that did everything – that’s how we all learned a lot.” The training also stood for a lot, too. “At Jimmy Choo, I was hired before my portfolio was fully open,” she quips.

Ms. Ray’s first collection consisted of several pairs of shoes and some handbags. “I had the bags made because I had an idea for the crescent handle.” But after three trade shows in Paris and London, she sold four crocodile handbags that retailed at £16,000 apiece, and not one pair of shoe. “That gave me an idea which direction to go.”

Today, she is the darling of Middle Eastern princesses and international socialites who have gone through the commercial ‘It bags’ but now prefer something rare. Her limited output is distributed at Moda Operandi, in Doha’s Harvey Nichols and La Boutique Blanche, and a few exclusive shops. “I don’t expect to produce in great volume – they’re all handmade.” As long as they remain as chic as they are, everyone will be happy.

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