Having possessed a lifelong passion for fashion, Ukranian born designer Mariya Dykalo began working as an intern with Aspinal of London in 2006. She quickly rose through the ranks, initially becoming a designer then the head of design before being appointed as the brand’s Creative Director in 2013.
Coming from Lviv, which Dykalo describes as a “beautiful unspoiled city in West Ukraine”, she always knew that education was the best way to achieve a better life and future. She attended the National Academy of Art in Ukraine where she trained in both ready-to-wear and accessories design before finishing off with a Masters in Arts and Design with a focus in working with leather and accessories at the age of 28. Upon graduation, Dykalo moved to England to pursue a degree in English as a foreign language, starting her down the path of an illustrious career. Prior to her time at the academy, she spent three years at a technical college where she studied pattern making, sewing, stitching, construction and fashion design.
Since joining Aspinal of London, the brand has evolved from its focus on stationery, and creating beautiful leather books for museums, to a much wider collection of seasonal men’s and women’s bags and accessories.
When designing, Dykalo is all about playing with the shapes of the bags and textures of the leathers and other materials to bring the pieces to life. She said: “My designs are about incorporating elegance and versatility, whilst maintaining practical functions that allow busy working women to go about their day. I carefully consider aesthetics and construction to consider how our clients are going to use the piece, whether that be for a social occasion, travel or work.” As the Creative Director, Dykalo has collaborated with talented individuals on capsule collections for the brand including Michelle Dockery, Emma Shipley, David Gandy and Giles Deacon, to name a few.
I had such a pleasure meeting Mariya earlier this year in London at the presentation of the latest Aspinal colorful collection. We have talked about many things: from love of colors in the winter time to how the person changes when moving from the homeland - something both of us have personally experienced.
Tanja Beljanski: You believe that education is the best way to achieve a better life and future.
Mariya Dykalo: My mother once told me when I was very young that education would change my life and that statement has stuck with me ever since. As a young Ukrainian girl, I always knew I wanted to be a designer but it wasn’t until I attended my first sewing class at the age of 13, that my passion for creativity and apparel was ignited. I went on to study design and pattern cutting at college before enrolling in Lviv National Academy for Arts & Design, where I gained a masters qualification, specializing in leather accessories and apparel. I spent a total of nine years learning, practicing and honing my craft and never did I lose sight of my end goal.
Education is important, not only for learning, but also for mixing with different people and minds, which in turn helps you grow intellectually and socially. I always tell my children you never stop learning as long as you live.
TB: From Ukraine to the UK, from an intern to a creative director - everything seems possible in your case. Was it all a ‘smooth sailing’?
MD: It may all seem like smooth sailing on the outside, but I promise there was a lot of hard work that went on behind the scenes. I learnt very early on the value of hard-work and determination, especially since I grew up during a time of unrest in Ukraine. While in school, I made a living on the side as a bespoke seamstress. As I already made my own clothes, I decided to take on clients who loved my designs and the income from this was then put back into developing my collections, taking part in design competitions and most important, my education. As with anything, there were times of difficulty, but I reminded myself how these were small steps towards the bigger dream.
Now I’m living my dream at Aspinal of London, working with creative and talented minds, creating beautiful designs. It’s important to know what you want in life, believe it and never give up. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, or how hard things get, you have to always believe in your dreams.
TB: What does creativity mean to you?
MD: Creativity to me is a state of mind. The more I create and design, the more ideas I get - creativity breeds creativity. Designing and creating means everything to me and has become as essential to my being as breathing air. I’ve always been surrounded by talented minds, first, with my education and now, with industry folk, where I’m lucky to delve into their world and work. It’s also something I encourage while with my children, I teach them that play can also be creative - my son has quite the architectural mind and is also into music and has just taken up song writing. It’s important for me to nurture their minds during their formative years.
TB: Is there something that inspires you most when designing?
MD: I find inspiration everywhere, from the streets of London, Tokyo, Shanghai and of course Dubai, where you find some of the most well dressed individuals, to my experiences. I find it’s always interesting to explore the different cities I visit and understand the people I meet and then I try to paint a picture around what I’ve seen. Vintage shops are a crown jewel for inspiration as well, as you find everything from jewelry, trinkets and even clothing where you’ll see small details such as interesting buttons, small sculptures and intricate designs.
TB: Where is Aspinal of London produced?
MD: The leather for all pieces are sourced in Italy and majority of them are then produced across Europe. Small items such as stationery, cashmere scarves and belts are made in the UK.
TB: Which contrasts do you like working with?
MD: I love experimenting with different colors and textures when designing, from bright pop shades to jewel tones and metallics, and very lucky in this rite, as our customers respond well to these, both in the UK and internationally. This in turn gives us the avenues to introduce unexpected color/design combinations into our new collections. Our SS20 collection is one such example, with the introduction of our boldest Spring palette till date, think vibrant Penelope Pink, Bright Mustard and English Lavender, followed with a contrasting deep Midnight Blue. With textures, our most successful finish is the croc print, which we have worked hard over the seasons to achieve the right scale print across our handbags. For the new Spring 2020 collection, we have introduced a beautiful new Silk Lizard print which is placed next to contrasting velvet on our new Micro Mayfair collection and the finish is so luxurious – definitely one to watch for this new season.
TB: What is your favorite part of the process of designing the collections?
MD: I find every step of the process exciting, from putting the original idea down on paper to visiting leather shows in Milan and Paris, selecting new colors and textures for the season ahead with my design team and finally getting down to production. However, my favorite moment has to be when the new samples arrive, it’s an amazing feeling to see the first prototype of a design you have been working on for months. There is a whole ritual we go through when these arrive, the team comes together to preview the pieces, then we all pick what we think will be the next bestseller and finally, try to imagine who will be carrying the bag in the coming months.
TB: What is your favorite item and favorite bag color from the latest Aspinal of London collection?
MD: It’s so hard to pick favorites, I’m generally obsessed with anything pink, so the SS20 is the perfect collection for me as there is so much of it. I love our new Micro Mayfair handbag in Penelope Pink Velvet & Silk Lizard. It is the micro version of Aspinal of London’s iconic Midi Mayfair, the design adored by HRH Duchess of Cambridge. It’s so chic and tiny, but perfectly sized to still fit your phone and essentials comfortably. Pink is my favorite color generally speaking, however I am partial to see through pieces such as our Transparent Lion Trunk, which is inspired by the traditional English brass lion head door knockers, a recognizable symbol of British heritage.
TB: What do you consider is your greatest professional achievement?
MD: I am so unbelievably proud to have designed a handbag which is carried by the Duchess of Cambridge - the Midi Mayfair bag will live forever. The feeling of creating a bestselling bag is a huge sense of achievement.
TB: What is your greatest personal achievement?
MD: My children and family as a whole are my greatest achievement. Family is the foundation for any success in life and I hope to pass down my values, talents and work ethic to my own children.
TB: Your favorite museum?
MD: I have a museum of Aspinal of London handbags in my dressing room! I archive every single Aspinal handbag ever produced, one day this will be good for the museum of Aspinal.
TB: Your favorite book from the Ukranian author? What would you suggest we read?
MD: “Thirty Seven Names” by Yaroslav Kravchenko. The author was one of my teachers and it’s about the history of Ukrainian art.
TB: What do you think is the most important life lesson for someone to learn?
MD: This has to be: “If you do what you love, you will never have to work a day in your life.” Find what you love and never give up.
About Aspinal of London
Aspinal of London is the quintessential English luxury lifestyle brand, offering women's designer handbags and purses, men's wallets, and luxury leather goods. It was founded in 2002 on the fundamental premise of offering customers the most beautiful, elegant and refined designs of superior quality to enjoy for a lifetime.
Aspinal of London has a strong presence in London with eight stores across the city, as well as having concessions in Selfridges and Harrods. The first international store opened in Kuwait in 2013 and most recently, the first standalone store in Shanghai, in November 2019.
* This story by Tanja Beljanski first appeared in the April 2020 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.