Making Of: Horween Shell Cordovan Leather

It’s no mystery that I am a huge fan of raw, natural materials. The list is virtually endless. Just looking at cotton, copper, and cement, there is a huge array of different outlets for those materials whether in fashion, architecture, or something altogether removed. It’s truly amazing to see what different designers and craftspeople can do with such basic components.

Image courtesy of Ludwig Reiter

Image courtesy of Ludwig Reiter

In order to fully appreciate someone’s work, it’s important to understand why he or she chose to work in a given medium or tradition. I’ve mentioned it here and there, but in retrospect I’ve realized that I haven’t fully shared the process behind the much-coveted Shell Cordovan leather from Horween Tannery in Chicago. To do so, I tracked down a great (and succinct) film shot by Hiroki Nakamura of Visvim for their Spring/Summer 2010 shoe campaign. It was made during a visit to the tannery wherein Skip Horween outlines the process used to make produce each piece of Shell Cordovan.  Obviously that collection is old news by this point (though it’s still one of my favorites), but the video below is wonderfully informative and gives a great sense of what goes into Shell Cordovan leather. Check it out!

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Visvim – “Sashiko” Shirt & Sweatshirt

While most fashion labels do their best to look forward for inspiration, Japan’s Visvim tends to look backwards. Rather than solely seeking out the cutting edge, they continually revisit the most successful details of yesteryear. Drawing inspiration from traditional “Sashiko” (or “little stabs”) embroidery, Visvim just released two garments which feature the detail stitching.

The first piece is a straightforward, solid poplin button up. While Japanese “Sashiko” has developed an archetype of white linen thread on indigo cloth, a vibrant red thread was also used (though somewhat sparingly). This shirt conscripts the latter in a military-esque pattern on the bottom sides. Because the hand-stitching weighs heavily into the price of the piece, the best part of this shirt is how accessible the design is to anyone who has 30 minutes and some thread. Do it at home.

Employing a more subtle color contrast, the “Bedlam” sweatshirt features similar embroidery. Peeking out from the beige, a white thread zig-zags around the cuffs and the bottom of the garment . Though “Sashiko” was often used to repair abrasions in fabric, the embellishment in this sweatshirt is solely decorative. In addition to the contrast stitching, this sweatshirt features a leather pull tab on a golden RiRi zipper and natural cork beads on the drawstring. As always, a great attention to detail. Take a look at some close-ups in the gallery:

Visvim’s “Dissertation on Self-Verification 2001-2011”

As a brand, Visvim has steadily gained a phenomenal reputation through its marriage of quality and design. Therein, what is particularly striking about the label is its ongoing interest in harboring the best (and often most obscure) methods of production. Transversing the globe in search of the right materials, creative director Hiroki Nakamura partners with small, segregated outfits of traditional craftspeople to supply specific components of his lines. Recently, he has sourced hand woven ramie fabric from individual artisans in Fukushima prefecture, integrated all natural dyes from an indigo master in Tokushima, and relied on vegetable tanned equine leather from a family-owned tannery in Chicago – all within the last year.

Suffice it to say, Nakamura has relied on the same M.O. to capture the legacy of his brand in this 152-page assemblage. For this piece, he teamed up with Japanese bookbinders to create a limited run of hand made books to outline the visual story of Visvim. “Dissertation on Self-Verification” is a collection of images which either inspired or captured choice pieces throughout the last decade. Invoking a tradition dating back to the 7th Century CE, the outside cover is lined with washi paper made from locally harvested kozo bark. With a final contemporary touch, the book includes several interviews with Nakamura as well as two original DVDs which delve deep into the creative world behind his label.

Yet while it is an interesting case study of a particular brand’s evolution, the real allure of the book lies in the attention paid to the creative process itself. Any interview can offer insight into the trials and tribulations of a designer turned entrepreneur, but there is no replacement for interacting directly with the visionary spirit. Sometimes, it pays more to see something blossom. Even if you aren’t familiar with the brand, it’s worth taking a look through the gallery.

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