Milan - It’s been 10 years since I first met Giulia and Camilla, twin sisters who founded the handbag brand Medea in 2018, and to this day I'm still surprised at how similar they look. I'm used to recognising who’s who, but I'd challenge everyone else to do the same, especially when they are wearing the same short haircut, which is their most recurring look. But, right now Camilla is the red-haired and long-tressed one, while Giulia has a tomboy cut. You can immediately see their creative DNA. We met in their Milan apartment full of vintage designer furniture, books, magazines and vinyl records (Foto, their dog, was also in attendance).
It doesn’t sound as cool as it looked, because she made it cool. "We spent most of our 20s apart. Camilla was in New York and I was in Milan," explained Giulia. "We were not working in fashion, but mostly in art and photography. But as we approached our 30s, we decided to do something together. We had the idea of this very simple yet provocative leather shopping bag which people found very alluring. And then everything else followed fast." Their twinship is very strong, it seems: they still complete each other’s sentences. They were born in Calcinato (a town near Brescia, almost 100 km from Milan) but soon they connected worldwide. Even celebrities loved the bag but how do you launch a global bag company from a small Italian town?
The answer: social media. The brand’s name is mainly inspired by Pier Paolo Pasolini's movie with Maria Callas, rather than the mythological figure. It was an instant success, thanks also to social media. "As soon as we debuted, Selfridges contacted us via Instagram, we were shocked but happy, we made a collection for them and it happened also the following season," said Giulia.
There was also start-up help from 247 Showroom, an Italian fashion agency that supports young, up-and-coming labels. The regional production conditions also played into the cards for the Venturini sisters."We are lucky as we grew up in the North East, one of the areas of Italian excellence in manufacture," explained Camilla. "And in Milan, we found a very strong distributor. I have to admit that it was exhausting, but not difficult to find the right partners – actually, all the dots connected smoothly. Now it’s the two of us, a designer hired a few months, a graphic designer based in Los Angeles and the production team. In Paris, we work with a PR consulting agency for press relationships and we also have the showroom. We try to control everything directly. Still, we have many collaborators".
Despite the small-size of their company, they are committed to making an effort towards sustainability and thus are about to start using deadstock for the new collections. "We believe that today's world doesn't need new colors or materials every season: red is red, yellow is yellow, always. This is also our way of taking care of the environment", maintained Giulia.
Design Nan Goldin, Playlist Virgil Abloh
Their design is extremely clean. Basically, it looks like a paper shopping bag, but you can feel the smell of the finest leather, 100% Made in Italy. The collection plays more on sizes rather than models and even on the inside, they stick to simplicity: one small pocket for credit cards or keys. Prices range from €13o for the lipstick case up to €500 to €700 for the bigger sizes. The limited editions and collaborations command prices up to €1,600 for things like the big soft tote in croc-embossed calf leather made with designer Peter Do or €1,200 for one that came out of an early partnership with artist Nan Goldin.
Their concept is very fluid and community-based, built by both personal and digital relationships. This is proof that nowadays loyalty and values can be more effective than big corporate budgets. The Medea Music Series playlists, available on Spotify and including artists and creatives such as Guy-Manuel de Homem Christo (Daft Punk), Dev Hynes, Isamaya Ffrench, Judith Bernstein, Kiko Kostadinov, Alia Shawkat, Eliza Douglas, Francesco Risso, Torey Thornton, Virgil Abloh, Caterina Barbieri, Despot, Ezra Koenig, Jess Maybury, Laura, and Deanna Fanning, clearly indicates their eclectic taste. This multifarious melting pot of people widens their inventive vision.
During the 10 years that Camilla spent in New York, she worked closely with photographers Ari Marcopoulos and Jason Nocito, while Giulia was working for Toiletpaper magazine, side by side with artist Maurizio Cattelan and photographer Pierpaolo Ferrari, the two founders. "Since the very beginning we were very focused on creativity and our mentors supported us towards this direction. Since they are totally the opposite of us, we found the right balance. This laid the foundation for Medea's DNA”, clarified Camilla. "By the way, I'm personally discovering an interest in the business and commercial aspects. To me, this is a sign of mental growth, as they challenge my creativity."
And Giulia added: “Sometimes social media make us believe we should be like everyone else and we question ourselves if we should follow the rest to succeed". But they stand strong and refuse to fall into the trap of homogenization. "If you are swallowed up by the whirlpool of your Instagram feed while trying to be different, then you're lost because you will never know how it would have worked out without all this information", Giulia said. "But stand by your ideas, observers will notice your efforts and see the difference. So, we injected into Medea our non-fashion backgrounds as we want it to be an inspiring conveyor of emotions".
It-Bags füo Beyoncé, Rihanna and Gigi Hadid
They are well-versed in the art of networking, but in the most tactful way. Their personal and verified Instagram profiles (@fotineeee and @medeasisters) have respectively 22k and 36,7k followers. After just three years their creations are sold in more than 50 shops worldwide (Selfridges, United Arrows, Ssense, Broken Arm, Gr8, Printemps, My Boon, and Machine A, to mention just a few) and are seen in the hands of Beyoncé (two weeks ago) or Rihanna, amongst others. Despite this, they are not random namedroppers; they know how to make things happen. As of now, digital platforms have been a strong ally for growing their company and they prioritized organic and selected growth over careless explosive expansion. The distribution has been carefully evaluated since day one, as they aimed to last instead of being a flash in the pan that quickly disappears–a common fate amongst emerging labels.
During the past year, their wholesale business flattened due to the pandemic. But the direct-to-consumer grew more than 100%. They foresee growing double digits on both channels for 2021. "Social media are not a joke, they give me a bit of a struggle sometimes" admitted Giulia. "It's our stage and once we are up there, we must perform at our best" added Camilla. Digital channels are important to them, but they are not addicted to them; it's a tool that can be both amusing and risky.
"It's crucial to think about life before and after Covid-19. Previously, we traveled to our showroom in Paris, we partied, shared our feelings, and built relationships. Even the way we used them before was easier, more positive and we were happier: take a photo, tag, share and reshare. Now it's all about data and performance", explained Camilla. "But it's still interesting to watch who wears our bags through the screen. You can see a girl wearing it in Shanghai, in London, or anywhere else and how they interpret and style it", added Giulia. The real surprise is when some of those girls' names are Gigi Hadid, Kaia Berger, Tessa Tompson, Gabrielle Union, Priyanka Chopra, Brie Larson, Adwoa Aboah, Paloma Elsesser Petra Collins, Emily Ratajkowski, or Julia Fox. They all chose Medea ad-lib.
The sisters’ spontaneity makes their achievements look so effortless, so I can't help but trust their advice to youngsters who are about to start their businesses through digital platforms. "If you want to do it right, you should first properly study how social platforms work and have a clear plan" pinpointed Camilla. "If you follow a strategy from the beginning, your chances to succeed are higher, since it's a small-scale company. You can control everything and enjoy the growth. If you don't plan ahead, you will eventually need to catch up and that will cost you time and money”.