Damien, you used to be a woodworker. Today, you make leather bags. How did you become a leathersmith?
By accident! Back then, I had just closed my first boutique, in which I was selling furniture of my own designs. I then worked here and there, depending on what work was coming my way. One day, one of my friends, who was a mosaicist, called me to collaborate with her. She desired to create a wooden bag for the fashion show Forest for Fashion, an annual event organized by the UN. We worked together on that project and I realized how much I enjoyed that form of craftsmanship! I decided to pursue that line of work and started creating bags made of both wood and leather.
I first made a piece for my brother, then one for myself. We received very positive feedback from our entourage, and from the people in the street, as well. It affirmed in me the idea that this concept had to be developed. Everything grew naturally and quickly from there, so much so that I ended up devoting myself entirely to that activity.
What is the concept of your brand Damien Béal?
I make unisex bags and accessories crafted from wood and leather. I do my best to keep a gender-neutral style in my creations even though, let’s be honest, the market is particularly dedicated to women.
How would you define your style?
I am aware there is a vintage touch to my work. Still, I would say it is modern, as well. Overall, my intent is for my creations to become timeless, and that is an interesting challenge to take on!
“I am constantly searching for ways of moving closer to perfection, within the process of object making. Sustainability is at the heart of my ethics.“
What is your philosophy?
In my experience, honesty must be the major guideline for my work. I am constantly searching for ways of moving closer to perfection, within the process of object making. I like the idea of thoughtfully produced, well-made work. I do not wish to doubt what goes out of my workshop. Further, sustainability is at the heart of my ethics.
What influences and inspires your creations?
I am influenced by Hermès, notably for their affinity and dedication to creating hand-made products, as well as their timeless designs. Amongst the not-so-famous brands, I like KikaNY for their graphics and simple lines.
Nonetheless, I am even more so inspired by furniture design: scandinavian design, designers such as Arne Jacobsen or Knoll’s furniture line from the 50’s. By the way, when I collaborated with Tété, a famous French musician, he told me: “What’s fun about your bag is that when you put it somewhere, it is an object. Then, when you carry it, it is a fashion accessory.” I very much like the idea of a hybrid creation: it represents who I am and what I’ve done.
How did you learn leathersmithing?
I am a self-taught leathersmith. I studied how bags were made, I deconstructed a few of them to understand their mechanisms and I tried making them.
I enjoy more liberty in my making process because I was not trained in traditional leathersmithing. For instance, I tend to experiment with different kinds of handles or latches, and I probably would not have done so had I received classical training. Nonetheless, I respect and apply certain rules, such as the hand-made saddle stitching, for example.
Where do your leathers come from?
They all come from French cows, that are then tanned in Italy. I work exclusively with one retailer out of superstition – I bought my first hide from him! – and because his high-end quality leather goes through a natural tanning process. It means that the skin is treated with merely water, without any chromium, nor fixators. Tones are obtained thanks to natural pigments. His leather comes from the food industry’s recycling, a cycle I chose for its morality. Non-obsolescence is important to me: these hides can last up a few decades without a problem. It is essential that my bags tell a story that continues to unfold with time – even generations later.
There is a massive leather industry worldwide. How can you stand out?
Lately, there has been a great deal of attention on craftsmanship. I think it is due to people’s way of showing their desire to consume sustainable products. The human aspect of craftsmanship draws people in, as well. More and more people are attempting to switch from a corporate job to more manually oriented work for that reason. I believe these are assets compared to brands that have become so huge that they have lost their humanity, as well as the contact with their clientele.
What are your plans for the future?
I would like to see Damien Béal evolving to DM Manufacture, designing diverse objects: leather goods, furniture, jewellery… My brand’s current reputation allows me to develop other facets of my creativity, for my greatest pleasure!