If you’re thinking of buying a new fall bag this season, there are a few ways to go. You can purchase an assembly-line, chain-store brand and just keep replacing or repairing your disposable purchase every couple of months. Or you can sell your firstborn and shell out for a celeb-sanctioned status symbol.
But there is another option, and I’m just throwing this out there: you can invest in a finely crafted, locally made, trend-proof artisan bag that will last you a lifetime. And if the latter route sounds oddly appealing to you, guess what? You’re in luck! Vancouver is home to some of the most bitchin’ indie bag designers in the world.
Joren MacMillan, for instance, is an Emily Carr University of Art and Design grad, who spent many years dabbling in several artistic mediums before finding the one for her: handcrafting leather bags from scratch. Each one of her bags is a gorgeous, show-stopping work of art. Not only that, but each one also offers just the right combo of disciplines to keep the multitalented MacMillan creatively fulfilled.
“I find that with this art form, I’m doing the design, I’m doing the painting, and it’s sculptural in the sense that I’m making a form,” says MacMillan, who recently invited the Straight into her East Van home studio to talk about her burgeoning label, Eulalee Leather. “I also like that I’m making something useful and that someone can carry art around instead of it just staying on their wall at their house.”
Inspired by mystical themes, art deco, and outlaw country culture, MacMillan starts with a paper model before she cuts out a swathe from a role of nude hide. Then she draws one of her original sketches onto the leather before carving, painting, staining, and assembling the bag with stitching, brass rivets and antique-looking fasteners—and she does all this in her modest live-workspace.
She does carry ready-made purses, but she also makes a lot of customized bags. For example, if you want her classic peacock design on one side of a coffee-brown leather hobo and a Babylonian-tree-of-life pattern on the other side, she can do that for you in two to four weeks for $400. Or you can go to her with another idea of your own. It’s up to you.
“With these bags, it’s like someone getting a tattoo made,” says MacMillan, who sells through her website and makes her Portobello West debut on September 25. “They go and they talk to the artist and go through what they want and, when it’s finally done, it’s something that’s original to them. It’s not something that everybody else has.”
If you’re looking for something a little less ornate and a little more basic—but just as beautiful—check out Erin Templeton’s headquarters (511 Carrall Street), which is one part office, one part sewing room, one part vintage shop, and one part leather accessories showroom. The seasoned Vancouver designer specializes in basic, timeless bags that you can keep busting out for years to come.
With minimal hardware, her always popular totes are made from imported leathers and come in four sizes and several colours, like black, chocolate, whiskey, and this season’s wild-card shade, sand ($259 to $395).
In addition to working with premium new fabrics, she also makes a lot of purses from recycled leather, including her version of the hobo ($199). For these beautiful retro-looking bags, Templeton sources out recycled leathers by the pound from warehouses.
Then she’ll take, for example, a pair of dated Danier mom pants from the ’80s, tear them apart, pull the lining out, split the seams, check for flaws, cut the pattern, reinforce the leather, and sew it all together. The whole labour-intensive process is one of her favourite parts of running her own label. But since the demand for her purses has grown so much since she started out in 2002, she’s had to farm out some of her seamstress duties to a part-time sewer.
“We want to start doing the One of a Kind Show [and Sale, December 8 to 11 at the Vancouver Convention Centre] and I could never do that and sell wholesale and sell out of my store and do all the sewing—it’s not possible,” says Templeton, who feels like she’s got the right team in place to take all that on now. “It’s finally clicked and it’s all just happening. It’s been quite a revolution.”