Traditional and Modern Minimal: Grace Gordon
12 Oct '14 —
Born from a deep appreciation for traditional leather craftsmanship, Grace Gordon’s line of leather goods are designed for today’s working female professional. The line’s minimalist aesthetic provides a clean and refreshing update to traditional leather bags while delivering a versatile way to accessorize for multiple occasions, going from day to night. In addition, the high quality craftsmanship supports a conscious lifestyle by providing lasting durability for years to come. Tforia spoke to Grace about her appreciation for leather craftsmanship, minimalism, and being socially conscious.
Tforia: How did it all start? You worked previously in fashion?
Grace Gordon: Yes, I worked as an assistant buyer with Levi’s Jeans. I had the opportunity to visit their factory in Turkey, in a place called Çorlu, a few years ago.
These local guys gave us a pair of raw jeans, and let us play around with them. Work with the fabric, dye it, spray it, bleach it, and showed us what the process is, creating a finished article.
Through that, I got more of an interest and passion in that type of starting point. How you can manipulate a material, if you got enough skill and enough knowledge about it to create something insane, without having to mess around.
Typically on handbags, lots of hardware, lots of sneaky design practices are used to almost make it so that there’s not any point in making it out of leather anymore. Might as well been made out of a plastic substitute—which a lot are.
Alongside denim, always was leather in whatever form. Probably most obvious to normal consumers were leather wallets and key fobs. I ended up specializing in the menswear side. There wasn’t a great female equivalent, easily accessible to the UK market.
I started to research a lot more into leather within the UK: people who work with it, manufacturing plants. There are obviously places like Birmingham, where they have this really rich history of saddlery and using English Bridle leather. It’s just such a shame, that things like that are dying out and not being exposed in the way that they should.
T: What was so alluring about leather in particular?
G: I wanted to look outside of denim. Leather tends to come hand in hand and I just love the material.
I remember my first satchel I had in primary school. I found it a little while before I decided to break off and make the brand, I found it under my bed at home with the parents. It felt like the same smell, when you open it, and it all came wafting out. You just have this connection to the product that I don’t think you can get with other things. One thing people always come and say ‘ah, the smell, great quality leather”.
T: How did you get a chance to work with leather?
G: I just took it upon myself. I visited loads of manufacturers, and leather suppliers throughout the UK. I went on a few courses. I am one of those people who really like to get out, meet someone and sit with them, watch how they do it and learn that way.
T: Nice! Did you have designs in mind when you first started?
G: I did. For me, I’m just all about a really minimal aesthetic. I never want any heavy branding, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible with retaining an identity.
I took elements of traditional leatherwork, obviously proven—that’s why they’re so sturdy, that’s why they last years and years—and combine that with little modern touches and functionality really.
There’s nothing worse than having a handbag where it doesn’t fit. It can look beautiful, but it doesn’t fit anything in it. Nowadays, we can quite easily be going from work to a bar to wherever, and not have the opportunity to change. It’s got to look good with both outfits and then also be able to fit everything in it.
T: When I first saw your line, I thought it stood out because it’s flattering and minimal. Other brands—the style falls short against the quality of craftsmanship. I thought you had started more from a point of, ‘I need to have a bag of such an aesthetic and it does not exist’.
G: Yea, there are definitely elements of that, but I think that’s just being a human being that’s into fashion. Quite often, you’ll have gripes or annoyances with items, but then, as a designer, or as a buyer, you can almost put your thinking hat on, ‘How could I solve that?’ and not just, ‘Oh, it doesn’t work. But, it’s fine.’
I want things that I can wear that I can’t find anywhere, but it is very, very much about the raw materials too. All the brass is from a foundry near Manchester, they even got a nice story to them.
T: Starting a new line of bags from scratch—there must have been times where you felt discouraged?
G: Oh there was a million and one days like that. You can have a morning like that and later on, you’re on top of the world. It was really tough, it was really tough. But I like to maintain perspective with everything.
I think that goes hand in hand with what I was saying about wanting to make the overall wear and look good. It’s about life and enjoying yourself. You know that the hard times are towards an end all that’s going to be great for you.
T: Yea. Such an endeavor must have effects on a personal level—new environments, new tasks.
G: Yea, I like it. It makes you hardened, which is always good in business. It’s good in leather anyway, because, everyone is a guy. In these old leather warehouses, they are all kind of older blokes that have been doing it for years and years and years. It takes a little while to crack them, and to get into the scene, and to know a few people and for them to trust you as well. For instance, everything I do is made in Britain. There are only so many leather workers that can do what you want. People can be very cagey with letting you know who’s the best and who’s good. There’s a lot of detective work.
T: Where do you get your inspiration from?
G: From walking around, looking at people, listening to what people want as well.
You get a lot of design students who are really focused on people hearing their voice and having these crazy ideas brought to life. That kind of designer can see someone like me as, maybe, compromising on the design, because you listen to people and integrate that into what you make, instead of it just coming solely from you. But I think that’s what makes a good product. I like to take consideration of what people want.
I personally find inspiration from anywhere from walking around London, from online, from not even necessarily clothes, or people’s styles. It could be looking at a building. I spent a lot of time in the Barbican before I made that collection.
T: An amazing building! Your bags look classic, like they’re appropriate for any time period, even going into the future. Are there going to be drastic changes to that style?
G: I’m going to maintain them as a core collection. And always have nude, black, and tan in the collection.
I will have an autumn winter additional break off collection, which is what I’m working on now. I’ve got small goods on the way as well. Purses, belts, key fobs, so I’m looking forward to getting those out.
T: You’re not going to do any trends?
G: Not really. The only thing I would do that might be interpreted as trends but really aren’t are taking the inspiration from various traditional leatherwork techniques. So, say fringing. Something like that could come in, and still maintaining that clean look. But if I did it, it would be because it’s something that’s traditionally done with the material. I think if you do that as well, it aids you in the design process.
T: On your blog, you mention that the black square bag, the Lucy square was the most popular one?
G: Yea, the Lucy.
I think partly because it’s such an easy style. It’s just big enough to fit things in if you are having a working day, but at the same time it’s small enough to be able to wrap around you and use say on the weekend, or in the evening. It’s got this top handle which I’ve seen a lot of people detach the shoulder strap and just leave the top handle. Which makes it a little more cute and feminine, it’s just a really versatile one.
However, the Eleanor tote, the milled tote in black, that’s been doing really well recently. So it might overtake it soon.
T: Have you found patterns among the customers you’re getting?
G: I’ve been surprised. I have guys buying them. The guys buy briefcases and backpacks.
My market is 25-35 year old careerwomen based in the city. Kind of style savvy, into looking good, into being aware of what they’re buying, but at the same time making sure that the brand is not intimidating and feels familiar. You don’t have to work in the fashion industry to be able to appreciate and like it.
A lot of the times, you get brands that do quite minimal and quite Scandinavian looking, they can just be a bit fashion heavy, and a bit scary to customers. I think people can’t affiliate with them, and can’t imagine themselves in the wearer’s shoes, so it kind of puts them off.
Mostly late 20 to early 30 year old women who work in the city, tends to be. But it varies, I had an old lady who about 80 odd years old. She bought a brown Lucy bag.
T: Popular bag. Identifying with the ‘Made in Britain’ brand seems like an interesting aspect of the brand.
G: Yea, the British thing is a huge pull. It was probably kicked off by the financial crisis. People are reverting back to, like Tesco shares have gone up, because people are going back to buying from the corner shop, and buying from local delis and things.
I know that a lot of people, probably with big brands, say Primark, have been publicized in the news, I think people want to feel good about what they’re buying.
We’ve come in a situation where it’s like you got 5 top brands on the high street. I think people want more diversity and they don’t want to be seen wearing what the next person’s wearing.
There is a huge British part. I like knowing who’s made something, being able to have a step before going to visit them, have a cup of tea with them, and ask how many generations of their family before them have been making saddles.
T: Definitely, I think that’s something people would love to hear about.
G: I want to show the techniques. But it’s added to the list of a million and one things that I want to do to further the brand and everything. I’ll enjoy it more and have fun with it!
T: I look forward to that, being able to see all that world, bringing your nice camera to meet those tough leather craftsmen.
G: You’d have to get some stand in guys. They’d be so annoyed that you brought a camera. I could just imagine that they’d be like ‘What are you doing with that?’
For more, visit Grace Gordon's full collection at grace-gordon.com.