Interview with Rafe Totengco

I’m so flipping psyched to bring you an exclusive interview with famed Rafe New York brand accessories designer Rafe Totengco today! I’m a long-time fan of Rafe‘s simple, but gorgeous handbags in bright colors and sumptuous leathers. His shoes (especially the Carine booties pictured below, on sale for only $110) have recently won their way onto my fashion must-have list. He also happens to be the uncle of my dear friend Denise. She hooked me up with the fabulous opportunity to pick this brill fashion guru’s brain. Check it:

Beauty Blogging Junkie: Rafe, I have an irrational obsession with your patent leather goods. Tell me how you broke into the business!
Rafe Totengco: I’ve had a passion for fashion since I was in elementary school in the Philippines. I was reading Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar while my classmates were busy playing with Japanese robots. You can say it was pre-destined. I moved to New York to pursue my dream, my American dream. I went to FIT to study fashion while working in the industry at the same time. When the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it and never looked back.

Rafe by the Seine in Paris!

BBJ: Where do you find inspiration? Is it a geographical location, an era, a movie, etc.?
I’m a sponge, I absorb everything. Travel is a huge source of inspiration, but books, movies, art, music, people and experiences can release creativity as well. They all manage to make their way into my subconscious and become part of my visual library. I was just in Bali on a seven-day adventure and went to off the beaten path locations; I’m so inspired by that trip.

BBJ: What is your favorite item you’ve ever designed?
RT: I love them all, are you kidding?! (wink) Fortunately I fall in love with something new every season. This season it’s the motorcycle bootie and my glazed leather hobo bag with zipper details inspired by the motorcycle jacket (pictured, above).
Rafe in Hong Kong

BBJ: What is most challenging about your job?

It can get hectic to keep coming up with new ideas every season. In fashion, you’re only as good as your last collection.

BBJ: What is the most exciting thing to come of your life as a designer?

When I see someone wearing my bag on the street, that is the ultimate high!

Rafe with folk dancers in Jodhpur

BBJ: How would you describe your design aesthetic?

RT: My design aesthetic is confident, bold, detailed and sexy. My girls aren’t shy of standing apart from the crowd. They like fashion but they’re not victims of it. They like to have fun!

BBJ: What are your favorite grooming products?

RT: I have a few staples: Borba, Cle de Peau crème and nighttime moisturizer, Malin & Goetz and Clarks Botanicals.

Thanks to Rafe for his inspiring answers! If you haven’t yet, you’ll see this style maven in the latest American Express commercials. He’s on the up and up, dolls. And don’t forget to check out Rafe‘s website, and his blogs and

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