Friday, September 3, 2010

Leather Girls

When I was a teenager, one of the most emblematic clothing symbols of my burgeoning generation was sandals, leather sandals handmade by an artist from Greenwich Village. Think Fred Braun, think water buffalo sandals. Compared to the uptight Mad Men-like accessories that my parents wore, hand-made and hand-tooled leather offered a possibility of a brave new world.

So imagine my delight this week when I got to introduce two different generations of handmade leather artists. In this case, those two artists included my daughter, Zana Bayne, creator of high-fashion, slightly kinky leather accessories and Jutta Neuman, designer of marvelously sensual and colorful handbags. I needed to visit Jutta's studio in NYC, and the opportunity presented itself to bring Zana along.

Jutta's story is fascinating. She left a successful career as a social worker in order to pursue a far more financially challenging career as a fashion designer and, ultimately, leather designer. Jutta carries out her craft in her studio now as she had for the past several decades, sometimes with assistants, sometimes alone, spinning out elegantly simple pieces in the juiciest of colors. Her commitment to handmade creates financial challenges, but satisfies Jutta's desire for connection and creativity. She has shunned all offers to go mass.

Zana is at the beginning of her career. Through her creative vision and online marketing savvy, at age 22 she is crafting a very different business of her own of handmade leather goods. Like Jutta, she is committed to making everything herself by hand in spite of leading a digital life. While her designs are extreme and fashion-forward, the connection to handmade is equally important to her thousands of customers who follow her designs and lifestyle through her blog.

It is the connection to handmade, whether to flower-child boomers or digital millenials which fascinates me. Maker, designer, artist: who cares what the job title is? The urge to create and use our hands to do so is one of those driving forces of being human, knowing neither generational nor national boundaries.

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