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There is a certain kind of woman who can bring equal parts inspiration and ingenuity to the table. Martine Ilana is one such woman. Starting her own watch company after spending a year abroad, we wanted to learn more about La Mer Collections and the story behind its start. Martine was gracious enough to answer a few of our questions and share some sneak peeks of her new lookbook with us that was recently shot in Iceland. Visually stunning and soulfully rich, this is a company that demonstrates what it means to bring an idea to fruition, no matter where you are at the start.

Darling Magazine: How would you describe your initial vision in starting La Mer?

Martine: I founded La Mer Collections in 2001 after I had taken a year to continue my design studies and travel overseas to Africa and Asia. I love souvenirs because once I’m back from any trip I can look at one and remember where I picked it up. I was so inspired by my time away that when I returned home, I wanted to design a line of watches that reminded me of those travels. As well, I could not find the exact watch that I wanted to wear, one that was both feminine and unique. As a result my goal was to create a beautifully designed watch, one that was durable and functional, but that also expressed my personality.

DM: What does the name La Mer Collections translate to?  What was the inspiration behind the company name?   

Martine:  La Mer means the ocean or the water in French. I love anything to do with the ocean, sun and sand. My best memories as a child are from time at the coast and even now, La Mer Collections’ offices are a few blocks from the water. So much energy and inspiration comes from water so this is what I wanted the timepiece line to capture.

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DM: Could you tell us the response La Mer Collections has had from your clientele so far and how you see yourself thriving from here?

Martine: All of La Mer Collections’ leather wrap watches are hand made from scratch in California. Each strap is hand made, the jewelry portion of the watch is hand crafted and then the entire watch itself is made in-house by our incredibly talented Watch Assembly Team. This is extremely rare for a watch brand and we are one of a few domestically made watch companies coming out of the USA. This manufacturing process has had a very positive response with our clients as we are able to truly provide a product that is hand crafted and custom for everyone. As well, my intention with La Mer Collections’ retail prices was to create watches that were not too expensive. I believe that we have sustained an affordable price point that ranges from $58-$195 on average. In 2011 I chose to test the market with some Swarovski crystal watches that were $175 and increasingly this has become our most popular collection. I believe that pairing our domestically made product with an affordable price point will allow La Mer Collections to thrive in the future and even move into other categories of accessories.

DM: Was there an overall concept/story to this new collection?

Martine: I chose to design this collection with Iceland’s landscape in mind. It is magical there and I wanted to make sure that the watch styles I designed captured and complemented Iceland’s natural landscape. Specifically for this new timepiece collection I wanted to focus on two things. One, the chains and crystals such as the Amethyst points, Labradorite and Ruby Stones, and Octohedron crystal charms (and many more) paired with our neutral toned Italian leather straps. This aesthetic looked magical and almost mystical paired with our most recent shoot’s back drop in Iceland. Two, I chose to do a color story exploration with the Mixed Layer wraps as shown for our Spring Collection. I wanted to push the boundary of what a watch strap’s color had to look like. Typically watches are black, brown, grey, nude or tobacco. These layered pieces are still very wearable but have neon yellow, turquoise, hot pink, taupe shimmer and buttercup yellow highlights running through.

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DM: As an entrepreneur, what was the most difficult hardship you had to face in the midst of your success?

Martine:  There are two things that come to mind immediately. First, I was not prepared for our first holiday season. I had minimal help, too many orders and not enough material or actual hands to create the product in time! It was a crazy season pulling 15-20 hour days. I was stressing out all of my vendor partners, factories and grabbing friends to help me fill the season’s orders. After that experience, each vendor and every person involved with La Mer Collections chose to address their systems and adjusted them in order to support the company’s long term growth. Second, I am an artist, a designer and creative person by trade. Once the business started to grow, I had to switch gears mentally in order to educate myself on the business side of running a company if I wanted to continue in a healthy and sustainable direction. Making that mental switch and balancing being an artist and businesswoman was a challenge I wasn’t expecting at first, but now it is my nature.

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DM: How would you encourage others to pursue their passions in starting their own business?

Martine: I think that formal education and training is extremely important to provide the mental and physical tools to run a business.  As well, hands-on experience, paired with education is a winning combination. Everyday is different when running a business, so make sure that if you start your own you can be flexible with your schedule. Additionally – ask for help! This is something that took me a while to do as I thought I could take on everything, but it is pleasantly surprising what people will do if you ask nicely and share your passion for the project or business. My last piece of advice is to create a plan. I am a firm believer that with a plan, anything can be executed.

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To browse all of La Mer’s collections, be sure to visit www.lamercollections.com and follow along via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Today only use code 35LOVE for 35% their entire site and free shipping for orders over $100. 

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Images courtesy of La Mer Collections

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