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[2021 Women’s Bags Trend] Varaï: The Craft of Making Provençal Basket Bags

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Marseille, France – It is barely 9am and Julie Moroni’s atelier – crammed with Saharan palm tree fronds, bouquets of pompon roses in milk cans ranged on the mantel-shelf and mounds of basket bags found at flea markets – is already filled with the warm lava glow of the Provençal sun.

When she opens the window, there comes through the droning cicadas’ concerto from the lavender hedges. “Hearing them sing motivates me a lot,” the designer says. After graduating from London College of Fashion in Cordwainers Fashion Bags and Accessories last June, Moroni transformed her old teenage garret into an eclectic bric-a-brac for her label. Not very surprising when she explains that Varaï means “disorder” in Provençal.

Even though the brand is just a few months old, two Marseille-based pop-up stores, For Atao and La Boutique d’été – Mucem, are already showcasing her first collection. In September, she launched Varaï’s website where she sells five different types of bags. “There is a whole market for straw bags online, so setting up a digital platform for Varaï was necessary,” she says. And Moroni was right. This summer, social network Pinterest pointed out that there were 573 percent more saves of woven handbags in 2018 over the last year – an enthusiasm aroused by French fashion firmament’s Simon Porte Jacquemus who catapulted micro and oversized straw bags on his spring/summer 2018 and 2019 catwalks.

 

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🌞 SUNBATH 🌞 #oran #itbag #varaÏ

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But this growing appetite for basket bags makes Moroni sigh. “I don’t make straw bags just because they are taking Instagram by storm right now,” she says before adding: “Varaï speaks of my everyday life, my personal history and my soul. It is an ode to my Mediterranean roots.” No wonder then that her bags are named after the southern seaside towns that influence her designs: Almería, Oran, Tangier and obviously Marseille.

That dolce vita, from sunbathing on the edge of some weather-worn cliffs in the Calanques to climbing up gnarled trees in orchards, infuses her creations and even the brand’s Instagram page – a blissful patchwork of naivety and tranquillity gathering almost 3K followers.

But a soupçon of nostalgia might also suffuse her work. It all started when Moroni visited her grandmother, Sylvette, in an old bastide where the lady hung her thirty-three straw bags from her kitchen ceiling. But one of them – a holed hessian bag with a wooden handle bought for a few pence at the village fair – opened her mind to the idea she could design some for a living. “It wasn’t very pretty but it had an authentic spirit that was very Varaï, very messy,” she grins.

 

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Prendre de la hauteur. #minibasketbag #varaï

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And that’s simply what Varaï is all about. Following the credo “Baskets and Respect”, the designer has learned the ropes of basket-making inspired by techniques dating back to ancient Egypt. The materials used in her designs are all natural, the raffia is from the Saharan region while the palm tree fronds are collected by hand in the Maghreb. “As a young basket-bag designer, it is important for me to travel to North Africa, learn about the materials, the whole making process and the artisans I work with,” she says.

Earlier this August, Moroni was chatting with the Marrakech souk’s petites mains when she came up with the idea of her forthcoming collection – dyeing the straw and fronds with blazing colours for winter. Based on eco-responsibility, the label will use waste and natural elements to create the hues such as onion peels for the reds and indigo stones for the blues. The designer is even mulling the use of recycled plastic bottles and denim for a few pieces. “Varaï is also about breaking the codes of the traditional basket bag. I want to show that my bags are not just associated with straw or summer. But it might take some time to convince,” she says while racing up to her desk to sketch out.

 

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Encore un peu d’été ! #summerforever #neverending #varaï

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“I have plenty of stories to tell through my current and future bags and I want them to travel and go beyond Provence,” she says. “I am currently developing Varaï in countries such as Australia and South-Africa where summer starts in December as seasons are at opposite times.” And maybe in a few months, if Provençal cicadas enrapture Bondi Beach-goers, chances are Moroni will be behind it.

Discover Julie Moroni’s first collection on Varaï.com, available from 145€ to 205€.

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