A Field Trip!

On Friday, we visited the workshop of Leu Locati, a storied handbag company that got its start in the nineteenth century making leather book covers for sacred texts. The company’s customers have included Queen Elizabeth II, Grace Kelly, and Princess Diana. Today, Leu Locati produces bags under its own label as well as for luxury brands like Armani, Dior, and Christian Louboutin. So, if you want to see how extremely high end bags are made, this is the place to go! It was a dream. The factory is in the heart of Milan, in a series of interconnected rooms on the second floor of an old building inside a courtyard.

If you want to see how extremely high end bags are made, this is the place to go!

The president of Leu Locati is Paolo Amato. Paolo spent the afternoon with us, taking us on a tour of the workshop and storage areas, serving us espresso, and showing us the intricacies of the metal hardware that form the centerpiece of Leu Locati’s bags, hardware that he designs himself. Paolo used to work in precision mechanics and engineering, and has invented many unusual purse closures and accessories. I was inspired to learn that he not only used to teach math and physics at the high school and university level (I used to be a high school math teacher), but he also didn’t start working in handbags until after his 40th birthday. I love coming across people who take meandering routes through life. It’s more scenic that way!

Paolo stressed the importance of starting a new bag design with the hardware, instead of adding it at the end, as an afterthought. There’s a practical reason for this, from a production standpoint; you wouldn’t want to discover at the end of the design process that the only hardware that will work for your design is an expensive, custom piece, when something more standard would have worked just as well. But there’s an aesthetic reason as well: if you know what hardware you are working with in the beginning, you can balance the proportions just right. I am planning/dreaming about some collaborations when I’m back home and set up for work, so this is good advice to keep in mind. I’ll leave this intentionally vague for now to keep you in suspense.

The bags that Leu Locati produces are really the culmination of the kinds of bags I am learning to make in school. The construction techniques and materials (including lots of hidden reinforcements—I’ll share more thoughts on this later) are very much in line with the standards I have been learning about in school, but executed with a high level of sophistication and skill. It’s interesting to see it as a path I could go down, a target I could strive for. But I’ll need to find the right balance between, on the one hand, established, tried-and-true design standards and construction techniques, and, on the other, my own unique style and values. I’ll have more to say about this soon.

I’ll need to find the right balance between tried-and-true design standards and my own unique style.

I was too awestruck to take as many pictures as I would have liked, but here are a few to give you a sense.

Evening bags in progress, with the hidden reinforcements visible. No assembly lines here.

Evening bags in progress, with the hidden reinforcements visible. No assembly lines here.

One of many walls of leather.

One of many walls of leather.

A view into the cutting room, where cardboard pattern pieces and reinforcement materials are cut by computerized machine. The leather is all cut by hand.

A view into the cutting room, where cardboard pattern pieces and reinforcement materials are cut by computerized machine. The leather is all cut by hand.

Gusset inspiration.

Gusset inspiration.

A briefcase-gusset style bag, with a novel closure designed by Paolo Amato.

A briefcase-gusset style bag, with a novel closure designed by Paolo Amato.

For more on my time studying handbag design and construction in Italy, sign up for my newsletter! Every week here is an overwhelming combination of learning more about this craft, navigating the perplexities of daily life in a foreign country, and getting as many touristic experiences as I can while I have the chance. I try to get the highlights into the newsletter, which goes out every week (or two). Scroll on down to sign up.