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.
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.
It never occurred to me that a bespoke belt could have a single hole to mark the user’s specific size. In that sense, this piece from the Teranishi Handcrafted archives speaks to the fundamental values of the brand; it is an understated and carefully constructed leather good with a unique life to live.
Made from premium vegetable-tanned leather, the natural hue is certain to develop an exceptionally rich caramel patina based on the rigors of daily wear. But what is particularly intriguing about this belt is that it exudes a sense of tailor-made confidence and stability. Conversely, it may also allow the wearer a certain savoir-faire in punching his/her own additional holes. (Perhaps this user interaction might even lead to unique decorative embellishments. Who knows?) Either way, the belt is a telling symbol of the wearer’s personality.
If you haven’t already, be sure to take a look at Teranishi Handcrafted’s line of handmade leather goods, which includes everything from other wearables to wallets.
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
Profile – Tan Colorway
These shoes from Italy’s Buttero are amongst the most luxurious sneakers in the world. Hand crafted from start to finish, each pair is made in the heart of Tuscany by a small team of heritage-trained shoemakers. The “Tannino” low-cuts in particular are made from locally sourced, Italian vegetable-tanned leather which develops a rich patina over time. That said, the character of the leather already has a great deal of depth stemming from the tanning process. To wrap everything together, they feature nickel eyelets, an all rubber sole, and custom leather laces. As Buttero puts it, they are “a fusion of pure rawness and elegance” – a feat few brands of any sort can master. Take a look at the gallery for some hi-resolution images of two colorways, as well as some images of the process.
- 3:4 Profile - Burgundy Colorway
- Leather Laces, Rubber Sole, & Stitch Detail - Tan Colorway
- Slick Silhouettes - Burgundy Colorway
- Shoe Close-up - Tan Colorway
- Heel Detail - Burgundy Colorway
- Profile - Tan Colorway
- Buttero's Lasts
- The Final Touches