If I were a better student, I could quote the now nameless philosopher and anthropologist who argued that creativity is inseparably bound to cultural context. In other words, a revolutionary – say van Gogh – could never create in a vacuum. Artwork, ideas, music, &c. all stem from, and are framed by, the society in which they are created.
Vincent van Gogh – “The Siesta (after Millet)” 1890, Oil on canvas
One thing I’ve noticed about the patrons of the creative world – of collectors, sponsors, and the like – is that they often misunderstand this concept. For many of them, the only work worth appreciating is that which undermines tradition: the avant-garde and the inexplicable. There is a time and place for everything (especially innovation), but it’s important to not get caught up in what makes something different as opposed to what makes something wonderful.
Designer Ann-Sofi and intern at work
If I’m guilty of anything as a budding aesthete, it’s my preference towards the natural progression of things. I enjoy looking at the work of creative people and seeing the traditions that fueled them, both in design and process. This is partly why I so much admire the work by Väska – a small leather goods label that marries the best of Nordic minimalism with traditional craftsmanship.
Natural Vegetable-Tanned Leather (Before & After)
For me, much of the allure of leather stems from breaking it in so to speak. I love the changing hues and subtle scuffs that develop with everyday wear. I’d go so far as to say that a person should take pride in their personal patina, but it’s easy to get carried away.
Because I’m interested in the process behind the patina, I am somewhat out of my element when it comes to vintage leather goods. I can certainly appreciate the scuffs and blemishes that give life to an old, beat up suitcase or your daddy’s work belt, but nothing can top making a leather good yours from day one.
Corter Leather – Postal Bi-fold Collection
1950’s US Postal Service Leather Bags
Yet when I discovered the most recent release by Corter Leather, I had to revise my thinking. For a special summer release, Eric Heins (the one-man operation that is Corter Leather) handcrafted 17 bi-fold wallets using recycled leather from vintage US Postal Service satchels. As you’ll see, these pieces combine the best of both worlds: the ‘blank canvas’ of unadulterated vegetable-tanned leather with that of its well-worn postal predecessor.
Having the hindsight and benefit of working in a family business, I can attest first hand to the ups and downs of sharing space with loved ones. At times it’s not an easy thing (in fact I venture to say that most people couldn’t do it) but there is a special synergy that you discover when you are more than just coworkers. This in part is why I have so much respect for Palmer & Sons. As you might have guessed, this Canadian leather goods label is comprised of a father and son who work together to design, prototype, and produce each piece in their collection entirely by hand.
One of the aspects I most admire about the label is their distinct Herculean aesthetic. With thick hides and bountiful rivets, their goods seem almost gratuitously sturdy. But therein lies the appeal: their bags are built for a lifetime (or three or four). To guarantee this, Palmer & Sons rely on traditional production methods, tools, and knowhow. Furthermore – and perhaps more unusually – each piece is crafted one at a time from start to finish.
Seeing as it’s two days past the equinox, it’s about time to dust off our rain gear in preparation for the proverbial April showers – or just the general spring/summer wet season depending on your location. Rainwear is rarely flattering, but as some of my favorite moments in fashion occur where design meets function, I’ve always felt it has a lot of potential. The grouping below includes some wonderful pieces that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also practical, sustainable, and just plain cool. Happy puddle hopping!
Clockwise from top left: water resistant waxed canvas backpack by Southern Field Industries; natural rubber rainboots by Aigle; handmade striped umbrella by Maglia Umbrella Co.; handmade contrast umbrella by Heurtault; Otter Wax (rubs onto fabric to make it water repellent); bike bag by Frost River; waterproof paper & notebook by Rite In The Rain; bamboo bike fenders by Planet Bike; casual/utility rubber hi-tops by Tretorn; biodegradable potato starch poncho by Equilicua (plant it on your garden when you’re done with accompanying seeds); men’s double-breasted raincoat by Norwegian Rain; women’s see-thru raincoat by Terra New York
A collection of belts & handmade brass hardware
Working in the film industry is an interesting prerequisite to launching one’s own fashion accessories label, but that’s precisely what happened for designer Tannis Hegan. Drawing on a decade of experience as a leatherworker and costume designer, she decided to break off and launch her self-titled line back in 2007. Since then, her work has won her a notable reputation for her immaculate eye and uncompromising emphasis on quality.
Goatskin, canvas, & wood carryall
earmuffs made of recycled vintage fur and custom made spring steel
Her most recent collection certainly showcases both of these characteristics. To start, almost everything is completely handcrafted – even down to minor components like solid brass hardware. One of the more rewarding aspects about her designs is that she seems interested in the natural beauty of her materials. A particular favorite is her clutch (below), which features a hand molded wooden handle.
The best part of traveling is discovering what you weren’t looking for. A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Raleigh, NC, where I swiftly stumbled upon the inaugural storefront of the American fashion and dry goods label Lumina. Timing couldn’t have been better; the Lumina window graphic was still wet on the glass when co-owners Paul & Bart offered to show me around their new shop
The leather messengers and totes from Amsterdam’s O My Bag are creating new standards for handmade carry goods. In addition to being well-designed, their production methods help to improve social attitudes about human potential – whether by employing the needy or saving the planet through clever ingenuity. In this sense, each piece from O My Bag is a carefully crafted reminder that there is a viable (and more beneficial) alternative to automated and mechanized production.
Frankie Fierce in Camel
Besides being an up-and-coming label, O My Bag is best characterized as an philanthropic venture that adheres to Fair Trade Labor standards and develops new eco-conscious production practices. In terms of production, everything takes place in a small, unlikely town outside of Kolkata, India. Though the work is technically outsourced from Amsterdam, it is done in a responsible manner that channels money and opportunity into a single struggling local economy. O My Bag offers employment to many who otherwise can’t find work – most often women and the disabled. In addition to paying wages that are 60% above comparable manufacturing jobs in the region, O My Bag also covers health insurance and offers educational opportunities to its workers and their families.
Adding the final touches
Along with the philanthropic aspect of the label, O My Bag works to advance technologies that help the environment. They have partnered with leather specialist Patrick Lee and Sheong Shi Tannery to develop what they call ‘eco-leather.’ This modified tanning process requires fewer resources and completely bypasses the use of harmful chemicals. In fact, Sheong Shi Tannery is the first in Kolkata to tan leather without using chrome, PCP, or AZO dyes – all of which create toxic working conditions and run-off. As if this isn’t enough, O My Bag also uses hides harvested from local cows that died of sickness or old age. Seeing as most of India’s leather comes from slaughterhouses in South America and Africa, this is a huge improvement in terms of shortening the production chain and redistributing money to local workers.
Posh Stacey Tote in Camel
Given the standards they maintain for their workers and the environment, it should come as no surprise that these bags are not only durable, but are beautiful to boot. O My Bag features a number of different models in a given collection – all of which span a wide range of aesthetics and functions. Regardless of your preference, they are virtually all secured with robust stitching, sturdy hardware, and custom-dyed leather.
Check out some images from their most recent collection in the gallery below. For more insight into the brand or its process, be sure to visit the O My Bag website.
- Frankie Fierce in Brown
- Adding the final touches
- Posh Stacey Tote in Camel
- Dirty Harry Messenger
- In the studio
- Frankie Fierce in Camel
I’m still not quite sure when winter starts here in Texas, but it might as well be now seeing as we just dug out our down comforter. For everyone else who is gearing up for the cold, here is the second installment of (girlfriend-approved) winter essentials. Hope you all discover something useful!
As pictured, clockwise from top left: Hat by Eugenia Kim; Handmade Shoes by Repetto; Polder Knit Scarf; Hand-Poured Natural Soy Candle; Pendleton Tote; Ruth Cross Hand-knit Socks; Source Vital Facial Toner; Hand-forged Snow Shovel; Pure Organic Maple Syrup; Alima Organic Tinted Lip Balm
For a light-hearted downslope into the weekend, you might get a kick out of this small selection from the Jil Sander Fall/Winter ’12. For his last collection as creative designer for the label, Raf Simons set out to investigate varying manifestations of the masculine spirit. Of course, nostalgia is one aspect of any man’s overall psyche – so what could be better than helping men everywhere revert back to their unadulterated selves and dress like little boys?
Of the varying pieces, the T-Rex knit is a personal favorite. It is made from a 50% wool and 50% camello blend for added warmth. In addition to being cozy, the sweater is regular rather than slim fit to truly recall your childhood. (For real, what kid wears a tailored-fit anything?)
Jil Sander Lunchbag
But, if you are really going all-out, you might enjoy the $275 Jil Sander cardboard lunch bag. No joke. It’s luxuried-up with brass ventilation rings and a protective cloth bag. (Yes. A cloth sack for a designer lunch bag.) Priceless.
For more pieces & detail shots, scroll through the gallery below!
- Whale Knit - Dinosaur Back-bib
- Whale Shirt
- Lunch Bag - Brass Ventilation Rings
- T-Rex Detail
- T-Rex Knit
- Jil Sander Lunchbag
American heritage brand Filson has worked since 1897 to maintain its reputation as a leader in crafting stylish and durable outdoor goods. That said, their Leather Field Satchel raises the bar on both counts.
Like all of their products, this briefcase is hand-made in their Seattle factory. Filson only sources vegetable-tanned bridle leather, which is notable for both its strength and character. Everything is stitched with a heavy bonded nylon thread and fastened together with brass hardware.
Back Pocket & Strap Detail
As always, be sure to check out some detailed images below!
- Inner Pocket Detail
- Brass Closure & Stamp
- 3/4 View
- Back Pocket & Strap Detail
Joshu + Vela is an emerging outfit in San Francisco which produces some of the most carefully considered bags and leather goods out there. While their mantra is to “highlight the beauty of function by creating simple and well made goods,” one would only need to interact directly with any of their products to understand the emphasis they place on quality. Though I wasn’t able to make the trip out, my cousin Rebecca was lucky enough to meet with Noah of Joshu + Vela in their studio to gain some insights into their brand and their process, which she detailed below:
Joshu + Vela – In the Studio
One way of characterizing the brand as a whole is the idea of intimacy. Everything in their studio is made entirely by hand with the best materials available. In addition to custom-cast hardware and vegetable dyes, they source domestically grown organic cotton from Herbert Rice Fabrics Inc in NY, which has been in operation since the 1800’s. The manufacturing process relies on pharmaceutical grade waxes and oils for finishing, and thus is completely free of hazardous solvents. Similarly, they source 100% vegetable dyed leather from animals already marked for consumption in an effort to reduce their environmental footprint.
When it comes to producing their goods, the team at Joshu + Vela employs a plethora of different hand tools, eight vintage sewing machines, and an 80 year-old rivet setter. This reliance on antiquated machinery demonstrates that the underlying concern of the brand as a whole is not maximizing output, but creating small quantities of goods, which can endure the tests of time.
Joshu + Vela – Backpack & Large Tote
Although their line features a variety of different pieces, the entire collection is aligned by simple aesthetics and utilitarian designs. Branding is kept to a minimum and unnecessary lines are kept at bay. All in all, everything is clean and classic, but ultimately built to be used.
Be sure to take a gander though the gallery below to check out some of their collection and some glimpses into their workspace. Also, stay up to date on their upcoming releases by periodically visiting their website.
- Joshu + Vela - Large Tote
- Joshu + Vela - In the Studio
- Joshu + Vela - Market Tote
- Joshu + Vela - Backpack & Large Tote
- Joshu + Vela - Vintage Sewing Machine
- Joshu + Vela - Navy Backpack