Melina Marelja is a fashion designer that specializes in creating refined, urban and multi-functional bags under her brand name Kon2re. Her bags are all hand-made from eco-leather and come in limited editions with various combinations and sizes. The signature meander 3D form has quickly become a strong visual imprint throughout the collections. Melina graduated from the University of Textile Technology and works from her studio in Zagreb, Croatia.

WORDS Nina Thorstensen
PHOTOS Iva Curkovic

You trained as a fashion designer and worked on tv sets before starting your own brand. Could you talk a bit about how you got the idea to make bags and where did you find inspiration?

The film industry is a very gruelling profession, no matter where you live and it`s far from spotlights and glamour that everybody relate it with. The hours you put in it literally deprave you from any kind of private life or creative work I was craving to do on the side. So, when I first started thinking about doing my own thing it was really coming from the saturation with the whole industry.

Ever since I was a child my main focus was always on clothes. That`s how I ended up training as a fashion designer and later working on sets. So, when it came to actually making something of my own, it was never really about the bags but more about the creativity. They came into picture naturally through the process of making patterns and design samples to see what actually worked. I didn`t have a clue how to make one, I knew how to make clothes and the basic principle in the end is the same. All I had was ideas and my passion so looking back it was probably the challenge of not knowing something and learning the whole process that appealed to me the most.

Each of your bag collections displays minimal design with clean contours in combination with versatile and adaptable options for wearing the bag. How do you approach working with colour and patterns?

I`d like to say that my design is minimal in all its complicated glory. When you think about minimal design it does seem like the easy way out, but in reality it`s quite the opposite. Making clean cut contours (hence the name) into something interesting that in its composition works, is always the hardest goal to achieve.  I`ve never wanted a minimal design with a minimal effect, it was always pushing design and material to its limits and sometimes mine as well, ideas that resulted in my Harmony series. That series began as an experiment and play with the structural, vertical and horizontal seams, which in this particular form are very strict and sharp. In the end they became a distinctive product that looks similar to the musical instrument – an accordion.

Big part of my design is certainly a colour scheme which always varies and since I`m not bound to trend and season collections I tend to follow my instinct, inner mood and that eye catching composition. Lately, I`m more and more prone to black, as the ultimate non colour in all the nuancing variations.

“I like making people think about the product, how it’s made, what material is used, how does it feel under your fingers. “

At the moment every bag is hand-made by you; could you describe the working process and tell us what you enjoy the most about it?

The idea only has a value if you can actually make it into reality and that`s what it’s most appealing to me when I`m creating; the thrill of the process and search for how to make it alive.

I like making people think about the product, how it’s made, what material is used, how does it feel under your fingers? For me it was always about the texture, lines, what you can do with a single piece of material to get the shape and surface more interesting. In my core I`m a perfectionist, especially when it comes down to my work and I want each piece that comes out of my studio to be the best quality work possible. My work involves a lot of music and I honestly think that without it my work would never be finished. It`s a big part of my creative process and I guess my neighbours would have a lot to say about that subject cause you can often hear me sing while I`m working.

Your choice of material is eco leather, which is made with natural fibers such as flax or cotton mixed with palm, corn, soybean and other plant oils that are laminated together in layers to create something that looks and feels as if it came from an animal.  Why did you choose this material and how do you see its potential for application in the fashion industry at large?

Producing leather is not very eco-friendly, but I have nothing against real leather and actually do have plans to work with it in the future. When I started my brand, eco leather gave me an ideal and less expensive surface to experiment with. It showed itself as extremely durable material, with longevity with a variety of patterns and colours. There is a vast potential in the fashion industry for this sustainable material. It looks, feels and has the same properties of real leather and it is also more affordable and more durable than the real thing.

What kind of things is influencing your work right now?

Recently I read a great interview with Marina Abramović for the The Talks magazine, and she said the simplest thing I can relate to; “You have to get new ideas from life, not from the studio. Then you go to the studio to realize the idea “. I am influenced by a lot of different things, people, nature. There is no specific pin point, it can happen in a reflection, shadow, rain, puddle on the street…. and that`s what makes it so thrilling and exciting.  At the same time, I`ve always been drawn to designers that explore the boundaries of material and gravity. I found these qualities in the creative minds of Iris van Herpen, Nikoline Liv Andersen, Yohji Yamamoto. Their way of bending and manipulating material, whether it is through construction or intervening on the surface, is fascinating and inspiring. I could look at their pieces for hours.