Vania and David: The Goods, The Journey, The Romance
If design is a form of self-expression, then Vania Leticia Escauriza Gagliardone exemplifies its potential. Her vibrant yet sophisticated energy radiates as much through her work as it does through her personality. A whimsical, feminine edge coupled with a refined sensibility characterizes everything that is the Vania & David brand.
Vania & David specializes in high-quality, eco-friendly and hand-made leather handbags, wallets and clutches, which come in a variety of gorgeous and bright colors. We adore their weekender bags for the top-quality construction, their rugged and earthy look and all the many pockets. Their necklaces are so unique and high-end that we wouldn’t be surprised to see a Vania & David flagship store on Madison Avenue one day. On the more casual side, the line also includes iPad cases and canvas totes (including one with Vania’s own sketch of a lion on the front).
Drawing from her childhood experiences of admiring her grandmother’s few but exquisite purses, Vania & David products emphasize quality over quantity. Their natural leather products are made with leather sourced from Vania’s home country of Paraguay. The jewelry is handmade in the United States with metals that are primarily sourced there as well. They also have a special Made in America line that uses 100% American-made materials.
A true designer at heart, Vania started selling her own handbags at the age of twenty. A co-worker admired a bag that Vania had made herself. Vania, business savvy lady that she was even then, named a price. This was the catalyst for fulfilling two of her childhood dreams: working in fashion and owning her own business. Two years later, the Paraguay native was on her way to the United States. There she met David, and together they launched their brand, Vania & David.
Here they dish with Urbanette on their unique leather goods, how they each got their start, and their serendipitous romance.
Urbanette Magazine: To start off, could you tell me a little bit about what prompted you to start Vania & David?
Vania Gagliardone: I was working a nine to five job, but I was doing sales of custom-made suits and jewelry during lunch time and off-work hours. I was earning more selling than during my regular job. [She pauses to reflect.] From the time that I was eight years old, I always knew that I wanted my own business. I just didn’t know what. My jewelry suppliers were ecstatic about my sales, and I started wondering, “How much money are they making with my sales?”
Urbanette: And you thought maybe it would be better to be the one in charge rather than the middleman?
Vania: Exactly. I woke up and I knew it was time to go on my own. I was working constantly.
“I was one of the pioneers in the leather market in Paraguay by combining fabric with leather and making it look really fancy.”
Urbanette: That makes sense. I read that the idea for Vania & David started with one handbag. Can you describe the bag?
Vania: The bag was very simple but very unique at the same time. It was all fabric, but with the handles made of leather. The base of the handbag was also made of leather because I figured that if it was laid down somewhere the fabric would get damaged and ruined.
Urbanette: Especially in NYC. Keeping the bottom of your bag clean is crucial.
Vania: No question!
Urbanette: Did you think it was filling a niche that was missing in the current marketplace?
Vania: Indeed, I was one of the pioneers in the leather market in Paraguay by combining fabric with leather and making it look really fancy. I definitely believe that this filled a niche.
Urbanette: Is the original bag still available?
Vania: We still have some designs that are leather and fabric, and they are still very popular. Our original bag is available, but it’s not online. We have it here at our showroom.
Urbanette: I’m sure it’s nice for people to see where it all started. I saw online that your natural leather collection uses “pounded” leather. Could you explain what this process entails and what it adds to your bags?
Vania: The entire process to create the leather is done by hand. It’s a very old technique. Paraguay is one of the few countries still doing this.
Urbanette: It sounds labor intensive. Is it a process of literally pounding the leather?
Vania: Yes, it’s pounded. It’s a rustic and old technique. The process brings uniqueness and an old-school quality to our natural leather bags. The leather is strong and durable. If treated well, it can last years.
Urbanette: So it’s an investment bag, so to speak?
Vania: Yep! Over time it becomes softer and darker and feels amazing against your body. There is a natural shine that accompanies the natural leather bags from the body’s natural oils that is just fantastic.
Urbanette: I love the idea of having a bag that ages with you in a good way. It seems like it becomes more than just a bag.
Vania: That is exactly what it does. You got it! Some clients bought the bag in 2001 and it’s still impeccable today.
“An item can be very simple, but the quality of a Vania & David item is always outstanding.”
Urbanette: That’s amazing. I was wondering how you two met, how Vania’s brand became Vania & David?
David Martinez: Okay, I got this one. I played soccer at the University of Buffalo. One of my buddies from the team, one of my best friends actually and one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met, Chad, got married on Long Island on November 16, 2003. I had been living in Brooklyn for two years. I went to the wedding, and Vania was one of the servers. We talked throughout the night. I found out later that Vania was wishing that I would talk to her. At the end of the wedding, I asked for her phone number. She said that she doesn’t give her number to strangers but she could take mine. I flipped the script on her and said that I don’t give my number either.
Urbanette: Uh oh…
David: She thought about it and gave in (probably the last time she gave in to me). The first time we talked over the phone, we spoke for eight hours!
Urbanette: Wow. Sounds like it was meant to be.
David: We kept in touch. She had already started her business.
Urbanette: How did you get involved with that aspect of things?
David: I had studied business management in undergrad at UB and then went to Duke Law School, so I love business, and I was quite intrigued by hers.
Urbanette: And you had a strong background to lend a helping hand.
David: I asked Vania if I could be her business partner in her parents’ pool. She agreed! Years later, after we were married, Vania confessed that she was wishing and dying for me to ask her to be her partner. Lucky me! In marriage and in business, and with our amazing son!
Urbanette: How old is your son?
David: A seven year old whipper snapper!
Urbanette: How fun. I suppose it’s too soon to ask if he’s shown any interest in the family business?
David: He has already made two small investments! He has made an investment and then a reinvestment in the canvas totes. It is cool because it is fun for him, but a way of learning at the same time.
Urbanette: Indeed. Vania, did you always have an interest in fashion and design, or were you more drawn to the business aspect?
Vania: I grew up with fashion around me. My grandmother was very fashionable and made custom outfits and dresses for herself, my mother and me. I’ve loved fashion since I was a little kid. I learned about commerce when I was eight. I learned to keep my numbers secret. [She winks,] I had a Hello Kitty scotch tape dispenser. I took it to school. All of my friends said, “Where did you buy it? How much was it? We want some.” I never divulged my source. I doubled the number in my head and said, “It’s only seventy cents. You can bring me the money, and I can buy it for you.” That was my first business transaction. I fell in love with it. I love both fashion and business.
Urbanette: You just knew instinctively what to do. I’ve really enjoyed looking at the Vania & David website. I would describe your aesthetic as simple, sleek and bold. How would you describe it?
Vania: Elegant, bold, simple and stunning …very similar to what you said. I am very attracted to contrast in general, and I think that is reflected in our line.
“Vania & David is for busy women who always want to look stunning and elegant whether it is running to the supermarket or going to brunch or dinner.”
Urbanette: What inspires you? Whose work do you admire?
Vania: Anything can inspire me. I am inspired by nature. I am inspired by beauty and simplicity in things. Antiques. I admire Stella McCartney because the clothes are very simple, and Celine. Reed Krakoff is doing great work as well.
Urbanette: I did notice that the Vania & David brand does seem to have a similar blend of femininity, elegance and simplicity as the Stella McCartney and Celine brands do. However, your brand seems to have an added quality to it. Your work seems a bit more zestful, a bit more spontaneous while still looking elegant and sophisticated.
Vania: You hit the nail on the head!
Urbanette: I’m glad my instincts are on-target. Given that, how would you describe the type of woman who would buy Vania & David?
Vania: Since becoming a mother, my everyday life –especially here in America– is quick. I don’t have time to think about stuff. I get dressed in five minutes, so I need an outfit that is simple. I throw on a bag, a necklace, some red lipstick, and I’m out the door and looking fantastic. Vania & David is for busy women who always want to look stunning and elegant whether it is running to the supermarket or going to brunch or dinner. Because every woman should feel fantastic!
Urbanette: So the accessories make the woman? They’re a quick and easy way to look fabulous even when you don’t have time to put together an entire outfit?
Vania: I would say that it’s the accessories and the personality that make the woman. If a woman has personality, she will be able to rock anything! But I believe that everything is in the details. For example, you can have a grey sweatshirt, boyfriend jeans, and black booties. Throw on the OMG bib necklace and our red clutch, and you are ready to go!
Urbanette: Oh of course. It’s all about letting your personality shine through. But a great bag never hurts, right?
Vania: Right on! One of the main things for me while designing or creating something is the concept of quality. So an item can be very simple, but the quality of a Vania & David item is always outstanding. Knowing that, makes you feel much more comfortable and amazing! We want substance. Our pieces are packed with substance, personality, and quality. Once you get used to one, you always want more!