HIGH-QUALITY leather handbags have always had a special place for me, so I was thrilled to be given an exclusive one-to-one leather craftsmanship demonstration by Franck Rousseau of Lancel.
“I have been in the handbag-making industry for eight years and Lancel is the only company I have worked for.”
The master gilder was flown in from Paris to do a trunk show for the launch of Lancel’s new store in The Gardens Mall.
In its atelier in Paris, there are only five craftsmen. The craftsmen are generally in charge of the production and repair.
“We’re not involved with the designing stage at all. Normally a company will have their own design team and we do not interfere.
“The design team will sort everything out right from the type of leather down to the thread colour whereas the craftsmen will put them together,” Rousseau said.
“Other than repairing, I also look after the vintage collection. This collection is made up of more than a century-old antique bags.”
As I observe Rousseau doing his thing, I note that the process of making leather handbags is very intricate. It requires minute attention to detail and much patience.
“On average, it takes about one and a half days to make one handbag,” he said.
“The most difficult ones I have made so far is the L’Adjani collection as there are multi pockets and zippers. It took me three and a half days,” Rousseau explains.
I’m starting to appreciate the exorbitant price tags here. “Depending on the design, it can be very complex but I enjoy doing it. It has always been my interest,” adds Rousseau. Lancel’s craftsmen are trained at its own leather craftsmanship academy.
SEWING IT UP
Leather handbags can be made from several types of leather and can be assembled by hand or using a sewing machine.
Lancel uses cattle hide. As it ages, it becomes softer and darker in colour. Most of the parts are assembled by hand but the machines are a better and faster option for stitching them together.
“Only decorative stitches are done by hand,” said the French craftsman. Stamping initials is a lot simpler than it seems but calls for high degree of accuracy. However, only selected stores offer this service because it requires a special tool set.
While Rousseau did not completely make an entire handbag during the demonstration, he was more than pleased to show me how to make a coin purse from scratch. I had an intriguing experience watching the craftsman turn two pieces of leather into a cute little purse in less than an hour.
STEP BY STEP
The first step is to choose and prepare the raw material. All Lancel’s leather undergo the tanning process at its workshop. Different parts of the bag may require different thickness of leather. This is called splitting — the process to reduce the thickness of leather.
Next, the craftsman will draw an outline accordingly for different parts of the bag on a hard cardboard-like material to make a gabarit. Gabarit is the French term for the template which will be used to shape the leather.
Placing the gabarit on a piece of leather, a cutter is used to cut out the leather to the required shape. A curved pattern is slightly tricky to cut but it can be done.
After getting all the parts, the craftsman will then put them together. Some parts can be glued , others sewn with a machine. Pockets are normally folded to shape and knocked hard with a hammer to get the creases.
The next step is sewing the lining inside the handbag. The lining is made separately. Toile de Jouy is Lancel’s special lining for most of its collection with Parisian monuments prints in dark red on white background.
The last step is adding jewellery and decoration such as handles, studs, and zippers. They can either be glued, sewn, or clipped on.
Choose the alphabet needed and heat the metal letter die tool. While waiting for the letter die to be heated, mark the area on the leather chosen by the customer.
The hot letter die tool is then pressed on a wet sponge to slightly lower its temperature so that the leather will not be damaged.
Rousseau uses a special tape to get the gold or silver colour stamped on the bag. The letter die tool is then pressed hard and steadily on the tape. Remove the tape, and clean the smudge with alcohol.