Photography by CHICHI UBIÑA
Emma Richman and Anna Niedermeyer launched their handbag collection with great excitement at the Saks Fifth Avenue Collective on Greenwich Avenue on Saturday, May 13, 2017. Fairfield County LOOK had a chance to interview the two fashion entrepreneurs.
Where did you grow up?
Emma: I grew up in New Jersey next to a horse farm, where I developed my love of the outdoors and animals. During that time, I also lived in Manhattan, where I ate my way through the city and indulged in art classes at the Met. At the age of ten, I moved to Greenwich, CT to be closer to the rest of my family.
Anna: I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.
Where did you go to high school? College?
Emma: I went to Greenwich Academy for high school, which is where my mother attended… it’s a small world after all! I attended Cornell University’s School of Hotel Management, partly due to my love of eating my way through Manhattan in my childhood.
Anna: I went to Hume Fogg Academic Magnet High School and then the Pratt Institute. I have a BFA in Sculpture
How did you two meet?
Emma: A few years ago, Anna and I met while working on a restaurant and apartment design project. Even though we met as professionals, we quickly realized that we had many similar interests.
Anna: Emma and I met professionally a few years ago. At the time, I was focusing primarily on interior design projects. Emma began working with me and my previous partner, and she and I became friends.
Tell us how you two decided to go into business together and for your company.
Emma: We met professionally and realized our passion for life, art, and new adventures. We initially were brainstorming about another professional endeavor that would allow us to be creative and create in general. Opia eventually became that “baby” we were hoping for and now so proud of!
Anna: In the Spring, of 2015 I started my own design company. I was mainly working in commercial interior design, as well as working in fashion photography, styling sets, and making props and costumes for photo shoots. As much as I love creative consulting, I was very interested in developing a product. Thinking about making a beautiful object to share with the world took me back to my sculpture roots, and I knew it was something I wanted to pursue. Emma was interested in collaborating and we spent a couple months casually kicking around ideas. The idea of using photography of champagne bubbles as fabric patterning for a bag design came to me on an airplane from Nashville to NYC in late August 2015. I love being on planes; there is something about being in the sky really gets my mind turning creatively. I had dinner plans with Emma that night and pitched her the basic concept. We spent the evening scheming the vision over sparkling rose in a roof top garden restaurant in Manhattan. Within a week, we had borrowed camera equipment and set up an apartment studio to photograph champagne bubbles. The images we took that day are the patterning for the bags, as well as an overall aesthetic inspiration for OPIA. Once we saw how beautiful the images were, we decided it had to be an elegant and sophisticated luxury handbag. From there, we started working on designs and a business plan.
Talk about your mutual interests.
Emma: Anna and I definitely have an affinity for beauty and love. We bring out the best in each other by allowing one another to experience what we love as individuals. Experiencing each other’s favorite food, travel, events, art, and fashion brings us closer together and definitely creates more mutual interests.
Anna: The easy answer is that Emma and I share a love for art and fashion. We also both feel that living a full life is a priority. I’d say we agree that celebration, true celebration, is about connecting with others and tapping into real, authentic joy.
What are your influences?
Emma: I have many throughout my personal and professional (Opia) life; some are more subtle and typical and others are more outrageous versions of who I wish my alter ego could be. Individuals who tend to push boundaries and yet are able to remain themselves and connect to the world and in it’s diverseness are a huge influence on me.
Anna: Goodness, there are so many influences on my creative sensibility and for OPIA specifically. To name a few: Marilyn Minter, Pipilotti Rist, Georgia O’keefe, Vivienne West Wood, Peggy Guggenheim, Kelly Wearstler, Alexander McQueen, Balmain, Valentino, Fendi, Comme des Garcons, Christina Pinkola Estes, Margret Atwood, and of course, my Mom.
Where do you draw your inspirations from?
Emma: Inspiration comes in many forms, from the naturalness of a sunrise to the intentional inspiration in fashion and art. In terms of inspiration for Opia as a company, our current clientele is a woman who is unique, confident, chic, elegant, and definitely her own being. The handbags we created were for the inspirational women who know what they want in their lives, and care deeply about attaining a sense of pride and artfulness.
My personal inspiration resides in what makes me comfortable, such as the warm sun; what makes me think, such as authors; and what makes me re-think, such as an artist in their prime.
Anna: For OPIA, I draw inspiration by conjuring a kind of fictitious memory of one glorious evening and try to enter that space when making creative choices for different aspects of the brand. It looks like a modern day version of a Great Gatsby party, or even just that vibe, with all of the glamour, celebration, and joy. Romance is heavy in the air. There are twinkling stars. You have on the most fabulous outfit, accessories, shoes, hair, and lipstick. You’re feeling very confident, suffocated, and elegant, but at the same time, not afraid to be bold, to dance by yourself, or to believe in magic. You are completely comfortable cutting lose and laughing loudly with your very best friends. You look at the world around you and feel awake, inspired, and moved by the beauty of it all; totally soulful and absolutely fabulous.
Getting in to that sensational space, the brand becomes clear to me. From there, the choices for design and graphics, plans for campaign imagery, and the future of the brand live and are decided inside that feeling. I believe when building a brand, you really just imagine a little world, and the fashion is just one small piece. When it comes to growing the company- more designs, different color ways, new images- as long as they make sense in the world, it will be cohesive and feel authentic.
How do you divide your tasks?
Emma: As co-owners, we of course have our fair share of mutual interests, goals and tasks. However, my background in fashion, from FOH, BOH, fashion design, wholesale and working with companies here and abroad, has allowed me to focus on the study of fashion and how it ebbs and flows according to different influences. I have designed monetary and interior layouts for companies and their stores, and I appreciate the concept of business in the form of art and definitely use that in my tasks of sales and marketing strategy.
Michael Morrison has been an integral part of creative development, from the Lookbook photography to streamlining the branding for Opia. Ashley Baker has also been an integral part of Opia’s start, as a business and financial advisor.
Anna: In the beginning, Emma and I shared the task of creating a plan for our business. Ashley Baker helped with our strategy development and projections. She now acts as a legal and business adviser. We also recently brought on an art director, Michael Morrison, who photographed the images for the look book, as well as helped to develop and refine the graphic design for the brand.
My role as creative director and designer is mainly focused on creative content development. I make patterns and drawings for new designs, as well at develop creative direction for the brand identity over all. As a Co-owner of the business, I also contribute to strategy development and the daily tasks of running the business.
Where is your company located?
Emma: Our company is based in NYC, as well as our production and material sourcing.
What are your goals for your company?
Emma: Our goals definitely include sharing our product with the world! I believe everyone should have a little Opia in their lives!! This first collection has received so much praise, and we cannot wait to add more product, including additional colorways/materials and new silhouettes. Anna and I believe in quality, and I do not see us straying from that. The foundation of Opia is in style and quality. Our next seasons will be bring even more stability to our company vision and legitimacy as a high end brand.
Anna: More bags in more places! We are working on plans to add new color ways and styles in the next year. I want to see this first collection have more breadth of styles and color options and really live out there in the world. We are so happy to be launching in Connecticut and working out of New York, but we hope to expand our reach to other states and other countries as well. After that, I can imagine a sister collection, a new story, that lives in the world of OPIA but moves in a new direction from the Champagne patterning and the original silhouettes.
The over arching goal with OPIA for me is, from the outside, I’d like OPIA to empower and inspire people to express their personality through the objects they chose to have in their life. From the inside I’d like to have a life and a company that feels innovative, worth while, and makes me excited to get out of bed in the morning.
Where do you see yourselves – individually and/or together after 10 years? 20 years?
Emma: I believe that the fashion and art world will appreciate all that we will bring to it by that time. We would love to be on the other end of the inspiration and influence questions!! Opia will hopefully move through the fashion and retail world seamlessly by staying true to our objectives and constantly challenging ourselves, our clientele, and Opia as a brand.
I definitely see myself as a mentor at some point. I firmly believe that giving back to others is the key to our own success. By using Opia and our company’s legacy as a base, I would love to allow other aspirational individuals to learn from Opia.
Anna: What’s so exciting about brand development, for me, is building a creative identity with depth – then the wellspring of ideas for product development that make sense in the brand are abundant. I think of Kelly Wearstler as one of the top brands in this area. She can make anything, and it makes sense because it’s true to her brand and her style. I also think of Byredo, which is a very chic company that puts handbags and fragrance together seamlessly under the same vision. For now, I am completely in love with designing handbags. I am constantly day-dreaming and night dreaming about new ideas, forms, colors, and patterns. I think I could explore that creative space for a long time. But in the next 10-20 years, I also see myself being inspired by other design arenas such as lingerie, furniture, wallpaper, jewelry, and fragrance. I hope to be putting my creative energy toward an aesthetic sensibility that makes people feel special, beautiful and awake to the magic of life’s small moments. That’s what I want for myself, and that’s what I want for the whole world.