It all started in France. A place where inspiration flows out of every nook and cranny - the quaint, tree-lined villages, the café lined boulevards, the chic Parisian women who carry style so effortlessly. Angus was working in a leading French saddlery on the West coast.
I had a dream….that one day I would convince Angus to make hand bags.
It all started in France. A place where inspiration flows out of every nook and cranny - the quaint, tree-lined villages, the café lined boulevards, the chic Parisian women who carry style so effortlessly. Angus was working in a leading French saddlery on the West coast. He spent days lining seats with some of the most exquisite leather we had ever seen, leather that just moulded to the tree like butter on a warm croissant. It became our mission to seek out the source of the leather and to create something inspiring with it back home in our little Australian workshop. We drove 16,000km in a hire car that year - a little Peugeot that delivered us faithfully, back and forth across Europe, from tannery to tannery. We spoke to some of the most interesting people, people passionate about leather, experts who had been creating leather for the demanding French fashion industry for hundreds of years. One tannery we visited dated back to the 13th century and was steeped in tradition and a relentless commitment to quality. Finally we found the leather that had first inspired us, deep in the South of France. It was butter-like, incredibly soft to touch, but so strong, so enduring. It was this leather that finally convinced Angus that it was time to add a hand bag to our collection.
Four years on and it is still our mission to perfect a process which will do justice to this leather. Such a leather demands a perfect stitch, skived and rolled edges and French seams (of course). The first edition of our Tote Bag was beautiful - a triumph of the quality of the leather. But now we have finished a second, even more special edition, one that adds to the quality of the leather, rather than just relying on it. The first step was to select the right part of the hide. Not just any part, the perfect part and the part that would have a mate, a matching piece for each side - parts for the handles, the tags, the inside pockets. Then it was on to the cutting and the skiving. Of course our old skiving machine just didn’t quite have the finesse required and so back to Europe it was. Before we knew it we had a new, curvaceous skiving machine – looking every bit the Italian that created it - skiving the edges of this special leather. Once skived, each edge is tapped down with a small hammer and hand-rolled. The rolled edges set off the leather, highlighting its suppleness, showing off its grain. There is no raw edge on any part of the new Tote Bag, even the handles are rolled right down to where they attach to the bag.
The next challenge was the stitching. A leather so soft is temperamental. It moves and slides away from you as you stitch. We decided that if we were serious about making bags that we would be proud to put our name on and that our customers would be proud to wear, we needed to ensure each stitch was perfect, every thread perfectly tensioned. What came next has transformed the Angus Barrett workshop. Three new sewing machines from Germany grace the workshop floors. Each plays a different role in the making of these special totes. We have one to do the beautiful French seams, one to ensure that the handles are perfectly attached, and one for the hard to reach corners and rolled hems.
Finally, in true Angus Barrett style, we wanted to think about the practicality of the bag; things that would make wearing it and using it all the more enjoyable. We decided the bag deserved a lining, but it needed to be something that would live up to the beauty of the leather. We chose a 100% natural hemp and to this we have sewn two, internal leather pockets. We then added a small magnet to the top hem of the bag, so that the bag sits closed when resting and can wait securely for the next adventure. The lining and the magnet are simple improvements, but ones that have demanded countless hours of research, design and development in our workshop.
So… did I manage to convince Angus to make handbags? Well I think this tote bag is definitely a good start! I asked Angus to reflect on this (with more than a bit of “I told you so” tone in my voice). He grinned sheepishly, but with an air of satisfaction and said, “Well, yes, it’s definitely a hand-bag. And I have to admit, I have really enjoyed creating it. Not because it’s a hand bag, but because of how it’s made – the research, the ideas, the hours and hours trying to come up with solutions and of course the quality of the leather that we got to work with. The main thing for me is that it’s designed to work and made to last. Like all good quality leather products, the more you use it, the better it will get. I’m proud to put my name on it.”
For me, it’s not just a practical, well-made carry bag, it’s also a classic beauty. A timeless bag, made from literally the best leather we can find and sewn up with passion and dedication to quality. It’s a bag that won’t date. Instead it will collect memories with you and stay by your side for years and years to come. I think it’s a bag that even those scrupulous Parisian women would be proud to wear.