Voyageuse bag in black
Writers are often told to write what they know. The same I’m sure, goes for designers. For French creative Valéry Damnon, artistry comes from a deeply personal place. As the founder and designer of his own women’s luxury leather goods label, Damnon combines his most vivid childhood memories with professional insights into the world of haute couture. The result is a collection of accessories that is both captivating and sentimental.
Valéry Damnon at the design table
As a child, Damnon was innately interested in raw materials – specifically the leathers produced by the many tanneries in the surrounding Midi-Pyrénées region of southern France. Picking up on this enthusiasm, his grandmother taught him about an array of different fabrics as well as the art of sewing.
One of the defining aspects of his work is the uncompromising emphasis placed on sourcing the best materials and expertise throughout Europe. As such, each Valéry Damnon piece is designed in Paris with a former prototypist of respected French ateliers. This complete control over the creative process encourages the label to meld innovative new styles with functional components – a favorite of which being the integrated mirror in their Mutine clutch (pictured below).
Mutine clutch with integrated mirror
Damnon’s interest in process also extends to working with other makers to develop new materials unique to his label. For instance, all of his leathers are custom dyed by select tanneries throughout France and Italy, while the colors themselves are inspired by Damnon’s favorite paintings. Their black colorway is especially exciting. It references the work of Pierre Soulage, who demonstrates that black is not just a singular hue, but an amalgam of different tones. As such, the black lamb leather developed for Damnon’s bags carries subtle undertones of grey, brown, and green. His current collection also references the works by Nicolas de Stael, Mark Rothko, and Yves Klein (below).
Delicieuse bag in “Yves Klein” blue
As for the bags themselves, they are individually handcrafted in Portugal by a small family-run studio of leatherworkers who extend back many generations.
DI1307NW01 – “Tirol Wing” Brogue Boot Detail
Over the past year, Italian luxury shoe label Diemme has continually pushed its own boundaries to design both bigger and better seasonal collections. Their spring campaign for example debuted an expanded sneaker offering that capitalized on a variety of styles and new colorways previously unprecedented at Diemme. For Fall/Winter, the label continues this momentum in releasing a large and varied collection of high-performance, handmade footwear. They’ve even included a few surprises.
DI1309AN02 – “Anatra” Duck Boot
DI1309TI01 – “Tibet” Boot Leather Detail
The new collection is just progressive enough, without sacrificing the quality and heritage that makes a Diemme shoe worthwhile. As you may have guessed, the label still derives its inspiration from the Alps, which surround their factory in Northern Italy. Rugged yet beautiful, the collection mirrors that legacy through traditional iterations of key favorites like their Roccia Vet and Firenze boot. However they have also reworked or improved many of these styles – the most notable of which being their new Roccia Due, which features a reinforcing overlay panel among other new embellishments.
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.
How many ways are there to make a leather bag? About 3.5 million, give or take a few. There is such an incredible variety of shapes, aesthetics, materials, qualities, and price points that it can make you dizzy if you focus too hard on finding the right one. Yet for all these considerations, I very much admire the work by Amee Hinkley of Ash & Ore – a small leather goods label out of Boulder, CO.
Rosie Bucket Tote (in Cobalt)
Space Tote – Detailing
What was immediately apparent to me when I first saw her collection of handmade bags and wallets is that they all felt rather personal. Surely every artisan has a special relationship with his or her products, but the sensibilities of those by Ash & Ore felt rooted in something deeper.
Jaqet is a small accessories label out of California that produces a handsome line of handcrafted leather goods. Both in process and form, their work is rooted in utilitarianism. Each of their many wallets and lanyards are designed to be useful – meaning of course that there are no unnecessary frills about them.
black iphone wallet
lanyard in saddle
What really strikes me about Jaqet is their unique aesthetic sensibility. The mixture of curved and geometric lines throughout their collection is particularly successful, especially in their trapezoidal coin wallet below. Yet in contrast to the simplicity of their pieces, Jaqet’s most intriguing embellishment stems from a subtle celebration of their process.
Finland isn’t the first place I would associate with bicycle commuting, but I was surprised to learn that they have a vibrant biking community despite the extreme weather conditions. While many would view the harsh winter climate as a total deal breaker, the folks at Kasperi see it as both an opportunity and a creative challenge.
Kasperi is a small biking accessory and outfitting label that is based entirely in Finland. Wanting to rise up to the challenges posed by Mother Nature, the brand produces a line of incredibly durable leather goods specifically tailored towards cyclists.
This is a very niche endeavor that naturally begs the question: but how exactly do you go about this? For Kasperi, the answer lies in a healthy collaboration between high-performance materials, practical designs, and close to home production.
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.
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.
There are certain very rare moments when I see something so beautiful that I stop and just stare in amazement. Almost out loud, I’ll wonder, “who made this” or “how did they do that” before diving in to slake my curiosity. It was in this fashion on a non-descript Paris street that I discovered the leatherwork by Bertrand Montillet.
It was already late afternoon when we walked into Altan Bottier – a luxury leather shoe atelier in the 8th arrondissement. Amongst the crowded rows of derbys and oxfords, I was drawn to a small collection of envelope-shaped leather cardholders and wallets in a floor level curio cabinet. Though only dimly lit inside the case, it was clear how much care went into crafting each piece; the details were immaculate. The wallets were obviously made by hand, yet each one featured uniform saddle stitches and perfectly sealed edges. Every single piece was a tiny work of art.
In embarrassingly broken (but enthusiastic) French, I asked the storeowner for more information about the leather cases. After an entertaining exchange of Franglais, he rummaged through some cards on his desk and handed me one that read “Bertrand Montillet.” I barely had time to put two and two together before he reached into another drawer and revealed his personal glasses case. I had never seen anything like it before – at least not in leather. It was comprised of two cylindrical pieces, which were threaded on the inside (like a screw) with manipulated leather. That was the clincher: I had to know more about M. Montillet.
So four months and a commission later, I was lucky enough to interview M. Montillet about his work, his passion, and his underlying creative process. For posterity, the interview below is in both English and French but be sure to scroll all the way through to see a generous collection of his work. Thanks to Jacqueline Sime for the translations.
Here’s a challenge: over the weekend, go to the most densely crowded public area you know of and clandestinely catalogue the variety of handbags women carry around. If you’re in a major metropolitan area, I bet you any amount of money that you will find bags of all shapes, sizes, materials, and price ranges, but you’ll only find a select few that are handmade.
Opelle – Handmade “Botanist” Bag
So why is it that people seek out designer handbags that are machine made in factories overseas? I have no idea. Frankly, I don’t want to know – but I like to think it’s because they haven’t heard of the select few artisans who are producing beautiful handmade leather bags closer to home (and at a much more reasonable price).
In the spirit of conscious consumerism, I’d like to introduce Opelle – a women’s leather goods label run out of a tiny studio in Toronto. They handcraft a beautiful collection of totes, carryalls, and clutches coveted by women in search of a grounded alternative to modern fashion.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not much on fashion accessories. Aside from neckwear, I almost don’t see the point. But when Barrett Alley contacted me about wearing two of his handmade leather bracelets, I decided that his workmanship was worth giving it a go.
Valerie Bracelet in Natural
Bipartisan Bracelet Reverse Shell Cordovan
I’ve been a fan of Barrett’s work for a long time now. For those of you who aren’t familiar, he and his wife Camélia handcraft a beautiful range of leather goods in their studio in Dallas, TX. For aesthetic and environmental reasons, they only source the best vegetable-tanned leather available – including the much-coveted Shell Cordovan from Horween in Chicago. Every now and then, they also work with custom bark-tanned, hunter harvested deer hides. Yet no matter which leather they use, Barrett Alley is well known for incorporating vintage materials like recovered Meiji era textiles or Civil War era buttons into their work. In other words, it’s a carefully curated and well-considered labor of love.
There is a special space in our woodshop where I have been archiving the drop-offs and remnants from various jobs over the last couple months. It’s comprised mostly of thin strips and short stubs that are useful for little more than kindling. But in a moment of inspiration, I raided my plunder and decided to put some of these scraps to good use. Now with one fewer item on my bucket list, I have successfully crafted my first homemade skateboard.
The first ride in Houston’s EZ-7 skate ditch (photo by Charles Rooney)
1. Handmade Natural Chromexcel Tote by Teranishi Handcrafted 2. Surfer Tote by Baggu 3. Gera Bag by WMJ Mills 4. Canvas Tote by MAKR 5. [Destination] Market Bag by Apolis 6. Handmade Chromexcel & Copper bag by Emil Erwin 7. Handmade 200 Bag by Doug Johnston 8. Handmade Red Tote by Lumina (in collaboration with Parrott) 9.Neon Carryall by Clare Vivier
You may remember an introduction to Danish accessories label For Holding Up The Trousers several months back. Since then, FHUTT has entertained a great deal of success around the world and has popped up in boutiques throughout Europe, Asia, and even North America. Their newest line is sure to continue that momentum.
While certain components don’t change (vegetable-tanned leather, handmade ceramic buttons, vintage military hardware, &c), their S/S ’13 collection is much bolder in terms of colors, contrasts, and detailing. There is a new emphasis on embellished hand stitching in their belts, which adds a nice design element to the collection. In addition to some new hardware, FHUTT has also released their first ever Deadstock Danish Civil Defense Blanket that features a matching leather carrier. But rather than read about the new collection, take a look for yourself in the gallery below. Be sure to stay posted to FHUTT‘s website for the entire lookbook.
- 1304 Navy & Silver Detail
- Vegetable Tanned Leather
- 1314 Deadstock Blanket
- 1301LTD Red & White Contrast
- Nickel plated steel, brass, copper, parkerized steel, vintage military
- 1309LTD (Green) & 1310LTD (Black)
- 1305 Brown 1306 Black
- Wax Linen Thread
- 1304 Navy & Silver
- 1302LTD Detail
- Handmade Ceramic Buttons
- 1303 Green Clasp Detail
- 1303 Detail
- Vegetable Tanned Leather Belts (1311, 1312, 1313)
- 1302LTD Stitch Detail
The Good Flock is a small designer/artisan-run company based in Portland, Oregon that handcrafts their entire line of accessories in a sustainable manner. The team only sources responsibly harvested materials ranging anywhere from domestically produced Cone Mills denim to Pendleton EcoWise wool in an effort to not only craft better goods, but to maintain our environment.
But while they have established a deserving legacy for their utilitarian carry goods, The Good Flock recently expanded it’s scope and raised the bar with their newly released Aurora lamp.
Consisting of sustainably harvested white oak, each lamp is turned by hand in a woodshop just south of Portland. It is designed to be minimally invasive in terms of tabletop or wall real estate – a trait which also makes the piece extremely versatile. Finally, because its lines and forms are so well balanced, its bound to complement virtually any aesthetic.
Be sure to check out their making-of video (if for no other reason than to learn about the values and considerations that make The Good Flock so special). It’s a promising step forward in building a steady future for American craftsmanship!
Justin Parker and Andi Kovel are the co-founders of Esque Studio – a small atelier based in Portland, Oregon which specializes in handmade glass wares and novelties. Drawing inspiration from different molding techniques, the duo crafts an assortment of functional and decorative goods that span a wide spectrum of aesthetics.
Nest Terrarium with hand cast bronze hook & vachetta leather strap
Cloche & Walnut Cheese Platter
What is particularly special about Esque Studios isn’t so much their goods, but rather their enthusiastic incorporation of various working methods and materials. The duo often dips into custom leather or woodworking to keep things fresh and distinctly one-of-a-kind. For example, their hanging terrarium dangles from a strip of vegetable-tanned leather, which functions like a Chinese finger trap. Similarly, their cheeseboard features hand-formed glass cloches nestled into a heavily grained walnut or maple slab.
.38 Special Revolver
Anatomical Heart Vase
Much of their work is utilitarian and minimal, yet there are some playful moments throughout their portfolio. The most impressive example being their molded .38 revolver, which is entirely formed by hand. (Check out the detailing in the handle and trigger in the image above.) Aside from that, their slightly more macabre skull is an interesting decorative piece, which straddles an agreeable balance between representation and obliquity. It’s important to note that these pieces are only the tip of the iceberg. There is plenty more to see over at the Esque Studio website!
- Terrarium with vent hold & cork stopper
- Silvered Skull
- "Blob" Bowl - gathered glass over color & spun off center
- Salt & Pepper Shakers - formed from antique dolls
- Anatomical Heart Vase
- Cloche & Walnut Cheese Platter
- .38 Special Revolver
- "Off" Pitcher & Cup
- Nest Terrarium with hand cast bronze hook & vachetta leather strap
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
At one point in our history, trades and traditions were handed down through the family tree. Lawyers bred lawyers, cobblers bred cobblers, and so on. Of course, this system limited the vocational possibilities for younger generations, but it conversely guaranteed a heightened emphasis on quality and expertise regardless of the family legacy.
Yet for better or worse, this heritage has been virtually phased out in America – leaving behind only a select few family businesses that specialize in heirloom trades. Within that already limited category, Oak Street Bootmakers is one of the better success stories. The label was founded on generations of traditional shoemaking knowledge and produces some of the best-crafted shoes on the market. To do so, founder, designer, and master cobbler George Vlagos draws on skills he learned from his father to craft a wide variety of handmade leather shoes ranging from penny loafers to work boots.
Given his insights into the industry, Vlagos ensures that each pair is properly constructed with the best materials available. In addition to being cut and sewn by hand, every shoe is outfitted with replaceable outsoles for added durability. Everything is stitched by hand with waxed thread and finished with Vibram soles/toplifts to ensure a sturdy footing where you meet the road. Additionally, Oak Street Bootmakers sources their leather from the renowned Horween Leather Co., which produces trademark leathers that are coveted by shoemakers all over the globe. (Conveniently, the two companies are only separated by a 40 minute drive – a factor which cuts down on transportation costs and it’s harmful byproducts!)
As a company, Oak Street Bootmakers is dedicated to more than just the art of shoemaking. To ensure that their work remains in tip-top shape, they also produce a number of shoe care products. In addition to natural conditioning oils and cleaning tools, the label also offers custom cedar shoe trees that maintain the shape of the shoe and prevent moisture from accumulating during storage. It’s a pretty passionate endeavor.
Be sure to view some hi-resolution images of their shoes and accessories in the gallery below. You can also view their entire collection and gain insights into their process by visiting the Oak Street Bootmakers website.
As I may very well be in the market, let me know which pair is your favorite!
- Suede Trail Oxford
- Brazilian Horsehair Shoe Brush
- Navy Chromexcel Trail Oxford
- Navy Hunt Boot Lookbook
- Aromatic Cedar Shoe Trees
- Beefroll Penny Loafer
When thinking about the sourdough bread, the SFMOMA, and Beach Blanket Babylon, it’s hard to figure out a way to make San Francisco any better. At least that was up until I stumbled on a well-known local treasure.
General Store – Assortment of Goods & Wares
General Store, run by Serena Mitnik-Miller and Mason St. Peter, is a small shop that houses pretty much anything one could want, need, or justify for daily life. Given the store’s interest in supporting artisans, I was thrilled to find a large number of handmade items throughout their inventory – many of which come straight out of the studios of craftspeople who reside locally in the Bay Area.
Though it’s worth taking a moment to check out the store on your own, I decided to curate a small list of my six favorite handmade goods from General Store. While scrolling through, be sure to visit the artists’ own websites when available!
Hand Carved Wooden Spoons – Jon Shade
Handwoven Textural Scarves – Lookout Wonderland
Hanging Ceramic Planter – Collaboration between Kat Hutter & Roger Lee
Wooden Cutting Boards - Luke Bartels
Sixteen Barrettes – Sioux Tribe Members
Tooled Leather Coasters – Commune Design
If you ever find yourself in the San Francisco or Venice area, be sure to drop in for a visit. Because their goods are procured from vintage sources and contemporary studios, there is always something new to discover!