June 2, 2013 by Ville Raivio
I am a 40-year-old custom fine bridle leather bag maker from NYC. I Studied philosophy in undergrad and sociology in grad school at The New School University NYC and had some fashion design classes at Parson, which is part of the university. My wife, who is my partner in this business, went to F.I.T. and has almost 20 years experience in the NYC fashion industry working with top designers in men and women’s wear. [My family] thinks I am crazy and obsessive to seek perfection in my art form. It seems like my interests have always been there, not only in fashion but more importantly in fine art and the classics. I don’t term what I do as “leather working” because, at least where I am from, it has connotations of amateur crafts or “western designs.”
My business was born from the wife’s and my decision to make our designs and from our love of fashion into reality. [My goods are] an artistic expression in a classic bridle leather briefcase and satchel design. I make complicated original works of fine art with bridle leather that are hand sculpted over days of hard labor, and shaped into bags that the user now transforms my work of art into his artistic expression over decades. The end, end result – is a cultural relic. This is how I intellectualize what I do. There is no difference from a painter, musician or fine suit maker. The actual understanding of how to sew and cut leather is easy and came from books and experience, after hundreds and hundreds of bags designed in my head and made with my hands. The ability to form it into an “artistic expression” where people set a high monetary value to it comes from the heart and life’s (often painful) experiences.
How do you define a casemaker? Anyone who visits a couple of forums, watches a YouTube video and orders some leather scrap on eBay as a “casemaker?” Or a major company that employs hundreds of in-house “casemakers” or, God forbid, has them made in other countries. The first is a hobbyist, that a friend convinced he can sell a case part time online. He might be able to make a copy of a high-end case and post a couple of pictures. And in the best-case scenario, the pictured bag was his best work because he took his time, but the real bag that gets sent to the customer is not even close to the picture. You see, the maker undersold the item and halfway through to building it realized it is just not worth what was paid. So he cuts corners that the average first time buyer won’t even know of until months later when the leather and skill quality shows its ugly head.
The second I would not call “casemakers,” either because the original “casemaker” no longer makes cases, but is sipping pina coladas on the beaches of Tuscany or his children, who have become “designers,” direct their employees/casemakers to do their job and make their bags. And one thing I learned as a businessman is that when the product is no longer made by the designer, it looses its quality through every copy made by every “employee.” No matter how much marketing, great pictures and famous actors carry the product, no one makes it like the original designer. Now the real “casemakers” who have made countless amounts, treat this like an artform and not a job, use the highest quality materials, build by hand, under their name and their legacy are far fewer. I am one of them.
My products have been received exceptionally well. We are in the process of opening up a few retail stores on Long Island and NYC where we can take custom orders for fine bridle leather business bags. We are fortunate to have some of the best tanneries in the world right here in the North East of America, and they make an exceptional bridle leather that will last a lifetime and also maintain a refined appearance. [My hobbies are] philosophy, both political and theoretical, science from technology to biology. I think the one main thing the general public doesn’t fully understand, especially animal rights activists, is that the American steer leather we use comes completely from the food industry. It is a by-product that would go to waste if not used. Also that bridle leather is naturally vegetable-tanned with tree barks in American tanneries that are regulated by the government.’
Pictures: © Joseph P. Marcellino Co.