Working directly with the designers that are a part of Craft & Culture is my favorite part of what I do because I learn something new almost every day. I am constantly inspired by their discipline, determination, creativity and expertise. One of the things that has become apparent to me is that the sole makers and designers of brands spend so much time in the hands on process of their work, they know exactly how to care and treat them for maximum use and beauty over time. And so, with a group of experts living together under one online roof, we are re-launching the Expert Series on Craft & Culture.
It felt natural to start with our first handbags and leather designer Randi Obenauer of Ora Bags whose amazing white leather bags just launched on Craft & Culture.
Ora leather goods are not only gorgeous functional accessories, they’re also impeccable works of art. Craft & Culture sat down with Ora designer Randi Obenauer to ask her how one maintains the integrity of such beautiful products.
C&C: Obviously natural wear and tear has to be factored into the ownership of leather goods; can someone expect the color or texture of the leather to change over time? In the same vein, what effect does prolonged sun exposure have on leather?
Randi: One of the things I love most about leather is the way it ages. Observing the way leather goods evolve and develope natural patinas thrills me. Black leather will show wear the least, depending on the way it was dyed of course, but any natural or coloured leather will eventually darken with use due to environmental factors, oils from our skin, spills and stains, and every day use. I see this as a beautiful evolution of the character of a leather product. In addition to visible changes, the feel of most leathers will also change over time, becoming softer and more supple or even smoother. Prolonged sun exposure will of course fade leather, however day to day use and sun exposure will cause minimal change versus say a leather bag hanging in a window display for months on end.
C&C: As a person with the utmost respect for your materials, how do you envision the individuals who buy your items caring for them? Is there a certain regimen you recommend to ensure that the leather stays in good condition?
Randi: It is really important to me to marry durable functionality with a beautiful aesthetic in each of my designs. Some might consider me to be rough on my own bags, as I use them and enjoy them with confidence in their durability – I bike in the rain, I take them camping (usually as my camera bag), I take them to the beach and on my motorcycle. At the same time, I also treat them as precious items – I would never set my bags on the floor in a restaurant or bar or bathroom or leave them where they could be sat on trampled on. And when my bags do get wet from the elements, I hang them to dry inside (never use electric heat) and then roll and massage them when they are completely dry to encourage them to stay supple and soft.
C&C: Does the size of the item factor into the care regimen?
Randi: Not necessarily, but when talking about leather, an important consideration is how to care for suede or nubuck, as the nature of these more raw/rough/brushed surfaces means they will absorb stains more and differently than smooth leathers. If you are like me you might be ok with your suede or nubuck darkening and earning a patina, however if you want to attempt to preserve its original look and feel, chemical sprays available at your favorite cobbler shop are the way to go.
C&C: Scuff marks are tragic, and happen to all of us; is there anything that can be done to counteract them, and reclaim some of the perfection of the leather pre-scuff?
Randi: It depends on the leather, and what your attitude to the look of your product is. I personally do not use any protective or cleaning agents that are harmful to the environment or harmful to my health. Various spray cleaners and protectants might rescue and preserve your leather, but the idea of our own skin absorbing these chemicals from wearing the item concerns me. If you are very particular about having a leather product that remains pristine looking, I recommend going with black or other dark options.
C&C: Does leather change when it gets wet? If soda gets spilled in an episode of accidental arm flailing, is there a way to combat the stain?
Randi: Leather is skin and cows live outside – this simple attitude of mine urges a simple approach to leather care. Wipe any spills or stains immediately with a damp rag. Don’t use a dark rag on light coloured leather. Don’t rub or scrub a smooth leather surface with a rough scrubby or other surface. If you want to invest in leather cleaners or conditioners, talk to a local cobbler about simple cream style products that can be wiped on. Water/liquids can change leather, depending on how long and how deeply they are saturated. A dry crunchy surface could result if the leather was fully saturated for a prolonged time, then left in the sun to dry or if it was dried with a hair drier or left by a heater.
C&C: How would you rate hardware on the importance scale when working with leather? Is there a process by which people can better preserve the hardware on their Ora items?
Randi: The quality of hardware varies greatly, from it’s ability to support weight and the quality of its finish, such as solid brass versus brass plated, or nickel plated versus stainless steel. Many of my more minimal aesthetic designs do not include hardware, as the weight of leather I use is conducive to being punched and capable of holding weight without additional structure. Poor quality hardware might discolour or rust over time. Some gold coloured hardware, that might be plated over steel, might ship off or fade, however this might be ok aesthetically if the light colour of the leather also takes on a patine…. as long as the hardware still functions properly. It all comes down to aesthetic preference and quality.
C&C: What are your hopes for the life of an Ora bag?
When it comes to the age, funtionality and beauty of leather products, the prevalence and quality of highly coveted vintage leather bags says it all. I hope my creations stand the test of time and enjoy use by multi generations.