Aspinal of London is now known for stylish totes as much as handsome journals, and its colour-loving creative director Mariya Dykalo is responsible. She speaks to Luxury London
I’m surprised that Mariya Dykalo grants me an interview. Yes, the creative director of Aspinal of London must be aware that the brand is thriving, but the designer does two things that are relatively unheard of in fashion editorial: she agrees at short notice (turning our content around in two days to be precise), even though it means answering my questions while she’s on holiday. And she doesn’t skip a single topic, even when I ask about feminism, commercial decision-making and other subjects that would usually be off a PR agenda.
Born in Ukraine, Dykalo landed a position at the brand in 2006, off the back of a Masters at The Lviv National Academy of Arts in her home country. It’s a course that educated her in both ready-to-wear clothing and accessories design, and today she admits that garments and footwear are “absolutely” something she’d like to bring to the brand.
For now, married to an Englishman and settled in the countryside, she’s risen up the ranks in-house overseeing an offering distinguished by leather goods: In 2013 she was placed at the Aspinal artistic helm, having mastered styles including the best-selling Marylebone tote (a carry-all that comes in finishes such as alabaster lizard skin and brown hair calf – and charges your phone).
Formerly known for traditional accessories and gold-leaf diaries, such designs have arguably drawn a more fashionable crowd to the stores under her watch, with marketing gurus seizing the opportunity to align her work with socialites and creative types such as Olivia Palermo, and Yasmin Sewell of Être Cécile, who have both leant their names to limited-edition versions of its best-loved accessories, in recent seasons.
Arguably, there’s a philanthropic motivation for these collaborations – proceeds from Palermo’s style were donated to ADCAM, the community development and sustainability charity – and this season, the brand will launch a blue-heart printed design with Beulah London, in support of the UN campaign against Human Trafficking.
For her part, Dykalo seems positive about well-known faces now working with the brand.
“It gives a new perception of Aspinal as a brand and that can potentially bring new fans,” she explains.
“Olivia Palermo [for example] is a global style icon so I was thrilled that we could work together for ADCAM.”
On a day-to-day basis she begins with the brand’s core values and is guided by feedback from its merchandising team. “I love British culture and want to embrace it with each collection,” she says. “We have regular feedback sessions with our retail and online teams to understand the insight they receive directly from customers. We always design with a commercial product in mind, but often inject something different or a new ‘wow’ colour for press to pick up on. My personal taste does influence me in some decisions and I certainly have my favourite bags, but it’s all about balance.
“There’s always a pressure to create a bestseller; the new it-bag. Some designs become an instant winner and some have a slower start. The Marylebone Tech tote became a bestseller and a press favourite, but we have other styles that we think will be a commercial hit but they just don’t take off in the same way.”
Dykalo loves bright colours. She carries Aspinal of London’s social diary in an aquamarine lizard effect, and this season has overseen a collection based on vibrant English gardens.
“Our mood for spring/summer 16 is very imaginary, fresh and natural,” she says. “It features colourful brights alongside textured metallics and beautiful silk prints. We bring florals bang up to date by playing with interesting shades and leather combinations. Bright orange and grass green are key colours, painted onto the existing and new handbag shapes.”
Just one week before our interview, fellow British brand Burberry announced that it would be retailing its new styles straight from the catwalk, ending the three- or four-month wait for products to arrive on counter, and leading the fashion industry to question the future of ‘seasonal’ collections: it’s a buy-now, wear-now approach, and something Dykalo doesn’t disregard for Aspinal of London. “We launch new collections at London Fashion Week, but never rule out instant launches of specific bags if we feel it would benefit the business and our customers’ demand,” she says.
At present? “Aspinal has 80 per cent of its products in continuity, and injects 20 per cent of newness each season, bringing new colours and shapes.”
International Women’s Day took place on 8 March. I ask her if she thinks being a woman makes it easier when designing products for other women. “Having a working woman create bags for others, certainly makes a difference. We can fully understand what is required of the end product,” she agrees. “Women work hard, often juggling having families at home. I love International Women’s Day: in the Ukraine, where I am from, on the 8 March every woman will receive a beautiful red rose. I do think that the business world without women would be very boring!"
"Women bring charm and balance to the workplace.”
To this end, three of her favourite four fashion labels are publicly headed up by women. “I admire Stella McCartney for simplicity and innovation, Roksanda Ilincic for great design and beautiful use of colour, Valentino for femininity and Miu Miu for vintage style and detailing.”
As for her own career, she wouldn’t change a thing. “Every decision I’ve made I’ve been really happy with the outcome. I spent a lot of time studying, and more than nine years working in art and design, which seems like a lot but I learnt so much. It’s an important part of a journey that allowed me to pick up new skills and inspirations.” She signs off: "I’m very lucky, fashion is my passion.”