Although Japanese leatherworking predates the Edo Period (1603-1868), it’s not high on the list of the made-in-Japan crafts known worldwide. Nevertheless, despite the lack of star power, the nation still boasts major hubs of leather manufacturing, predominantly in Hyogo Prefecture and Tokyo, most of which produce high-end items for the fashion and interior industries. On: Design takes a look at three products that debuted last month at the Designart festival and rethink leather in contemporary design.
Molding new ideas
The most unusual of this month’s trio is Tokyo-based design unit M&T’s lineup of desk organizers and trinket trays, each a three-dimensional sculptural work that would be impossible to make from conventional sheets of leather.
To create these minimalist, architectural pieces, Miyu Ikeda and Takuko Kurashima of M&T use a process they call L.F.M. (leather fiber molding) to repurpose leather scraps into a new moldable textile.
Producing supple leather for fashion and interiors involves thinning hides by stripping off layers from the bottom. Some layers are manufactured into different kinds of leather, including suede, but the bottommost offcut, which is too unstable to use, is usually discarded. M&T collects such scraps from tanneries in Sumida Ward, Tokyo’s center of leather processing, and pulverizes them into fibers, which are then moistened with a mixture of natural rubber and water before being pressed into uniquely shaped molds.
The process leaves an interesting raw leather texture to the sculptural works, which M&T has chosen not to add pigment to. Instead, they created a L.F.M. color palette by mixing the hues of the original scrap material used.
The L.F.M. lineup has yet to be priced, but will be available to buy at upcoming exhibitions, including the Roppongi Imagination Market at Cultural Synthesis: The Module Roppongi, from Nov. 22 to 28. Keep an eye on M&T’s website for more details.
Leather upholstery has long been a mainstay of luxury furniture, but Taiwan-based architect Johnny Chiu’s sumptuous circular Bloom chair, designed in collaboration with the Kobe Leather guild, takes the textile to a whole new level of design.
First, the leather used is a byproduct of Japan’s Kobe beef industry, a rarely used resource that is not only limited to 500 hides a year, but is also a difficult one to process. Second, the design doesn’t involve using the leather as a covering, but is the primary material, and third, the chair was conceived as luxury outdoor furniture, not an interior product.
Bloom focuses on the elasticity of Kobe leather, with Chiu’s honeycombed construction flexible enough to be folded for storage or transport. Behind the striking aesthetic lies months of tanning and dyeing by Kobe leatherworkers Studio Kiichi, using a strengthening technique of sandwiching a layer of bioplastic between sheets of leather, and manufacturing by Ryosuke Nagata Shoten, a furniture maker who had a hand in creating architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s interiors 100 years ago.
A time-consuming process involving Kobe artisans, Bloom comes at a significant price — around ¥3.44 million — and each chair can take up to a year to deliver. But what it offers is a luxurious, environmentally conscious leather piece, customizable to a color of choice.
Shapes of things to come
Last month, Kitsuca, the design studio of Takashi Umekawa, launched its own brand of minimalist but playful functional objects, with the release of Outline, a series of flat-contoured, vegetable-tanned leather handbags.
Inspired by everyday objects and forms, Kitsuca’s motto is curiously “less is more humor.” Its bags are based on basic shapes — a triangle, rectangle and square — but are whimsically named after the outlines of their handle holes: Perfect Circle, Semicircle and Oval.
Unlike many designer handbags, they are made from just two sheets of leather. The handle holes are cut out and there are no gussets — only darts at the bottom corners to give the pieces volume. Each Outline bag also includes a matching zip-fastened pouch made from the pieces of leather removed to create the bag’s handles.
Now available online at Kitsuca’s own webstore, Outline is available in brown and black and priced at ¥40,700 for the Semicircle and ¥41,800 for the Perfect Circle and Oval, with an option to buy pouches on their own at ¥7,840.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.