Martine Ilana created La Mer Collections as an outlet for all of the incredible design inspirations she found while traveling the globe. A worldly perspective influences the company, with distributors of La Mer watches located in numerous countries and materials for the watches coming from all over the world. Martine and her team recently moved into a bright and airy space in Marina Del Ray, a location that keeps inspiration flowing. We had the opportunity to visit Martine and get a sneak peak at La Mer’s killer collection of baubles, leathers and watch faces, and hear about what really makes the company, and its founder, tick.
Photography: Tim Melideo
What inspired you to start La Mer Collections?
I founded La Mer Collections (its translation is ‘The Ocean, or Water,’ Collections in French) after taking a year off of my design studies to travel overseas to Africa and Asia. I love souvenirs because once I’m back from any trip I can look at an object and dream of where I picked it up. I was so inspired by my time away that when I returned home, I wanted to design and create a line of watches that reminded me of my travels.
“My office — I made sure it was simple, bright and Zen. The Cairo Pyramid wraps sitting in front of my computer, are some of my favorite new styles — they are like pieces of sculpture on your wrist.”
What is your design and education background?
I have been studying Art and Design since I was in high school. I went to Cranbrook-Kingswood in Detroit, which is where I first came into contact with design as a profession. I then studied Industrial Design at The University of Michigan, Design and Psychology at The University of Cape Town and I took furniture design courses in New York at The School of Visual Arts. I most recently received a degree in Apparel Manufacturing and Product Development at FIDM in Los Angeles. I was in the midst of getting my MBA when La Mer took off and I had to withdraw to support the growth of the business. I would like to go back and finish when I have time! I’ve worked for a timepiece design and licensing firm in New York City, an interior design firm of resorts and luxury homes in Colorado and also as an accessories designer in the Surf and Skate industry in Los Angeles. I look at the world in color and have always been interested in arts, crafts and design both 3D and 2D, so design as my profession was the only job I could even consider.
“I was at one of our leather factories and could not bear to throw away all of this brightly colored scrap leather; instead, we turned it into a piece of art in the entry way — this is a much better use!”
What is your design process? How do you create ideas for new pieces?
I start with inspiration in color and style. Then, I look at what I’ve done in past seasons, what has been received well and what did not work. I also consider styles that I’ve wanted to design and test in the market — some so crazy that perhaps only I will like them! I really want to make something that I love.
I spend time observing everything from the natural environment to what people are wearing, and pair down what I really want to focus on. Often I’ll find a color in a piece of fabric or a small sculpture and I’ll source leather to match that color tone. My design process always includes a weekend spent quietly at my studio and tables filled with watch faces, colorful new leathers, chains, crystals, jump rings, and me diving into sampling styles. After hours of playing with these raw materials, I will come out with watches for each season.
What does an average work day look like?
Because the company works with so many international boutiques and distributors my working days run early in the morning until late at night, while trying to cover the world’s time zones:
Coffee first thing!
A few hours of emails working with our showrooms, buyers and factories.
Then I work directly with La Mer’s retail (our online store), wholesale (all of our boutiques and distributors), production and purchasing teams to ensure that each watch that has been ordered is of the best quality, made correctly and is set up for shipping on time to our customers.
Once La Mer’s staff leaves the office in the evening, I often spend time quietly working on new designs, reviewing our website’s needs and communicating with our teams overseas.
I live by the ocean in the heart of Venice, CA and each evening I always head over to yoga or run on the sand to close out the day — this is a must!
“This is our conference room. Our amazing furniture designer took me to the Marble Yard in LA and I picked out this beautiful stone. It has blues and greens running though it and it’s hard to believe that this came from the ground. In the back are shots of our previous photoshoots in Costa Rica & Big Sur.”
How do you source your materials?
All over the world, literally — I’ve picked up chains in Paris, leather in Cape town, and charms in Italy. One of my favorite parts of my role is finding new components wherever I travel. I will find a color or style of chain or charm anywhere in the world and then work with our factories to recreate it in bulk. As the company grows this is often our biggest challenge.
“Our kitchen – the Tolix chairs are painted to match our logo and the cubbies were custom designed for all of our storage needs. I am obsessed! We have a nice space to sit and enjoy a quiet moment.”
How big is your team?
Internally, I have 25 individuals who work in our Marina Del Rey headquarters, but I consider our showrooms (both LA and NYC, along with both Canadian coasts), international distributors and our Public Relations Firm part of the team as well. I have a relationship with each person involved with La Mer and all of their interest and passion for the brand has helped us grow.
“Our custom leather strap storage wall. We have 200+ different leather strap colors to choose from. Behind the wall is our ‘rivet repair station’ that small & manual machine can work miracles.”
You opened a new office in Marina Del Ray. Tell us about the location and design of the space.
It is a dream! After working for almost a decade in closets, kitchens, apartments, and garages, this new space is fresh and organized to perfection. I spent years thinking about what I wanted out of a functional office space. Working with one of my best friends who is an incredible interior designer, we worked with a contractor and furniture designer to build my dream office. It has changed the company in only a few months, as finally we can see the watches, the colors, the stock, and have room to organize everything.
“Our assembly team works very hard to make sure each watch is made perfectly and of the best quality — all of our leather wraps are assembled by hand inside of our office.”
“This is a view looking into our Wholesale Department and production space — lots of light, nice wide tables and room to grow.”
Do you have any advice for aspiring jewelry designers?
Design what you love and keep on moving forward!
How do you sparkle?
Sun, sand, beaches, sunrises and sunsets. Airports when I’m heading off on a new adventure, family, friends, yoga, running outside, vintage t-shirts (I’ve been building my collection for 20 years!), my 1967 Porsche and and that feeling of satisfaction when I see my designs on girls all over the world!