Maison Alma is without a doubt, the outerwear label you’ve dreamt of. Impeccably cut, the long, robe-like styles are made from interior fabrics, and only 30 of each unique print are created. Slip one on, and you won’t be able to take it off. Now, designer Daniela Bahamon has created a capsule collection of bucket bags. Initially designed for colette’s ‘Colombian’ takeover by Esteban Cortazar, each bag is hand dyed and constructed in Boyaca, Colombia, from straw and fique, a tough natural fiber made from the leaves of the Furcraea andina plant. In order to create the tight, woven shape, the fiber is twisted up to 5,000 times per basket.
Maison Alma’s story is a special one (how could it not be, with coats like that), and the best person to tell it is Daniela herself. Here, a series of questions with the passionate, instantly inspiring designer.
Accessories Almanac: What did you do before launching Maison Alma?
Daniela Bahamon: Before launching the house of the soul, I worked at L’Oréal and Dior in product creation and development at the Paris headquarters. My team would dream new concepts and bring the products to life – from the idea to the design, up to the advertising campaign.
Creation for me has always been a calling. I have always been influenced by my mother, who is an artist, furniture designer and architect (the real creative genius), but I wanted to learn the ropes from top innovators and luxury powerhouses before launching my own brand. After six years of intense work, I decided to listen to my soul!
Aa: Why did you launch the brand?
DB: The loss of someone dear; who taught me through example to follow your heart without concessions. She gave me the courage to make no compromises on what I wanted to do for Maison Alma.
Aa: Why interior fabrics?
DB: There are so many answers to this question!
My first answer would be: the interior world is my inspiration. I always wanted to create a luxury brand, that reflects the Latin American approach to luxury, which for me is drastically different to the European or American approach. Growing up, luxury was never a Chanel bag or an Aston Martin, you would rarely see either of those objects cruising the streets of Mexico, Colombia or Peru; the tense social and economic context of Latin Americas in the 90’s made any public display of wealth dangerous. As a result, the most sophisticated aesthetics are behind closed doors, INSIDE houses! More than a Birkin, I’m inspired by tapestries, ottoman sofas, even curtains. Buying interior fabric is dramatically different than when you buy fashion fabric. Because of one main characteristic: you know precisely how resistant to time and use every single meter your buy will be. Because covering a sofa is much more arduous work than covering your hips – these exceptional fabric jewels are woven in superior looms, with special techniques and huge amounts of time.
As political and social unrest settles, especially in Colombia, I want Maison Alma to represent the emancipation of this long-hidden beauty.
My second answer would be: beyond my inspiration there is no better spokesperson of Latin American Sophistication than interior fabrics as they share the three same aesthetic core values:
1. Mastery of Color: You must be a true color master to dare to pair strong audacious colors in the most unlikely ways and have as a result, sophistication. This gift is as much present in the masterpieces of Mexican Architect Luis Barragan, as it is in the striking linens of the maison d’editeurs, such as Jim Thompson.
2. Nature in the City: Colombians don’t separate architecture / buildings from nature, we really merge them together (I have actually seen some of the tallest palm trees in my life inside living rooms). On the other hand, botanica and landscapes are the ever prevailing thematic of interior fabric, so it’s a beautiful marriage.
3. Resistance and Heritage: Most of the objects made and bought in Colombia are meant to last – more than a lifetime if possible. There is not enough surplus, or seasons, to make us adopt a consumerist calendar. A wooden table is made of a slice of wood, and should outlast your family use - because even if you really want to change décor, you always know a family who could really use your old table. Ikea doesn’t exist in Colombia. I think the concept of willingly buying furniture knowing it has a definite life span, is quite counterintuitive. Interior Fabric is conceived the same way: it is meant to last a lifetime at your side.
The third answer is personal, and would be, ‘it runs in the family’. I don’t have mental boundaries between fashion, architecture and furniture design thanks to my family history. My grandfather had a furniture factory in the ‘50s while my grandmother was a ‘couturiere’. The result: My mother made her clothes from my grandfather’s interior fabric and my grandmother’s sewing machine. I guess I really am my mother’s daughter.
Aa.: Why did you decide to focus on outerwear?
DB: I am obsessed with outerwear. I have the firm belief nothing makes an outfit like a drop dead gorgeous coat. And yet, year after year I would be bored to the core to see yet another pure wool gray coat in the streets of Paris. The occasional, uneventful, striped coat would be the exception to the rule. And I don’t get it, because outerwear is the most essential piece of any woman’s wardrobe at least six months a year… for me it’s crystal clear it should be a MEGA arena of creativity. I guess I decided to follow my yearning for JOY DE VIVRE in this category; paired with a lifelong love of Sartoria, (and an inch of jealousy of men, “why do their tuxes fit so well”).
Aa.: Is there a memory you have involving a coat or a jacket that maybe sparked your love of them?
DB: Yes, it was pretty late in my life actually. I always lived in tropical countries so I never actually needed a coat until my 20’s. I had already a very acute sense of style when I had to actually buy a winter coat; and that was a very long quest. I chose an olive one (I don’t know why) – and suffered the consequences of being in a uniform every day for an entire season. Since then, I know very well the role and importance of the right coat and the right jacket – and have meticulously built quite a collection since then!
Aa.: How did you decide to launch bucket bags, and why the bucket shape in particular?
DB: The bucket bag line was launched specifically for colette in Paris. Esteban Cortazar curated this insane show at colette, celebrating the new wave of Colombian designers – and he invited Maison Alma to participate. I reinterpreted every one of my coats into bags; which was easy in the sense that I see and treat my coats as objects, rather than fashion.
I was inspired by the millinery basket weaving know-how we have in Colombia in a specific state called Boyaca. They are originally destined for the home (once again), and are both very practical, resistant and hand made. I worked for months with local weavers who reinterpreted each fabric into a unique basket.
Aa.: Why the bucket shape?
DB: I am a material purist I guess, for both my coats and bags. The shape is only a result of the material I am using; a vehicle that best exposes the technique and volume of the materials which are at the core. In this sense, the bucket bag has a unique duality of materials: both basket and fabric. And they are both linked so it is a beautiful symphony.
Aa.: How do the bags represent the brand?
DB: For me, the bags really represent a ‘cri du coeur’ (a cry from the heart) of Maison Alma.
Visually, they are a bite size sample of our soul – Colorfully chic, joyful and unexpected.
Like all of our objects, they are hand-made and I believe you really sense the human pulse in our pieces. There is a hand behind each drawing, each color dye, each twist and turn, each stitch. The best way to represent Maison Alma is to be a soulful piece I guess.
Aa.: What do you carry in your bag?
DB: That’s a tough question: my bag has always been Alibaba’s cave! I try to make sure to carry:
- My car keys: a tiny ‘Smart’, which is the only car that makes sense in Paris!
- My iPhone charger: I work on my phone all day long, so I am lost without it
But I keep randomly finding:
- Coins from different currencies around the world: I don’t have the discipline to empty the small change after my trips – and since I am constantly travelling between my workshops in Colombia and my showroom in Paris – it becomes silly after a while.
- Tennis Balls: It doesn’t happen often, but the amazement remains with me until today.