In the early Eighties, a group of friends on the island of Elba started to assemble, almost by chance, belts and bags in natural cowhide and recycled materials. They created handmade, unique and now-legendary items like the Spazzatura belt, decorated with recycled waste, the Tribù belt, embroidered with a family of stylized stick figures, and the collection made using recycled cans commissioned by Comme de Garcons.
This entertaining pastime took a serious turn, and the Henry Beguelin brand was born; however its spirit has never changed: objects crafted by hand with ancient mastery, timeless pieces that are always current because they go beyond the concept of short-lived “fads” to become the expression of real luxury. At first the company mainly produced belts, a few handbags and some small leather goods. Soon it added shoes, boxes and a few leather baskets, and then furniture. Recently the collections have expanded to include clothing and cashmere knitwear.
The hallmark of the Henry Beguelin world is the miniature stick figure hand embroidered in the special waxed thread utilized to sew all the company’s products, the very same symbol that decorated original belts of the eighties.
The eloquent ideogram that distinguished every Henry Beguelin product has become a full-fledged seal of authenticity, quality and craftsmanship.
Expert and skilled hands. Careful, precise movements.
Expertise acquired over the years and cultivated with passion, so that the secrets of handcrafting will never be lost. Punches for making regular holes and awls for boring leather to be sewn by hand, bevellers for finished edges and rounding off comers, overstitch wheels or stamps to mark the stitching lines, shaves to thin the leather, engraving machines for decorations, and hammers, scissors, craft knives and knives, all wielded with the deftness that comes from years of experience.
These archetypal tools still work beautifully today, and they give the articlesa timeless feel, the sturdiness and long life of handcrafted products. Strong twisted and waxed threads of cotton and linen to guarantee durability. Flexible awls and needles to sketch out stitches and tattoos on the leather: different stitches like strega, cavallo, raffia, regular running or beaded stitches, regular stitches. Soft outlines and styles evoking natural shapes. Meticulously pondered detailing, precious decorations with antique murrine glass beads.
These patient, old-fashioned movements create styles that always new, yet they reflect a sense of tradition. And freehand work makes each item exquisitely unique.
The crafting of leather – an art as old as man- metaphorically joins past and present, evoking insight tied to our experience. Things made by hand: this is the hallmark of a new low-tech concept that shuns all chemical treatments, reviving forgotten skills and giving products a patina that immediately lends them a familiar air, like inseparable companions on the long journey of life.
The family of stylized figures – man, woman, child, dog – embroidered with the same colourful waxed thread we use to stitch our products, is the naïf decorative motif linked to the spirit of our very first items, and over the years it has come to symbolize our brand. Used alone, the little stick figure appears on every product to signal the style of the collections: low-key elegance that is renewed season after season yet never loses its ties with tradition. Because it is based on the solid values of natural materials and ancient craftsmanship.
Classic, yet distinguished by a hint of “naturalism” linking the products to the origins of a brand created through the pleasure of working with our hands. This little stick figure, embroidered in big stitches, unites “doing” with “playing”. It tells a story that, after twenty years, has remained the same but has always discovered new expressions.
STITCHING & DECORATING
Making things by hand: skills, gestures, instruments and traditions.
Cutting, stripping, puncturing, folding, beating and stitching. Stitching is the brand’s most precious legacy. There are stitches that join two layers of leather, like the two-needle diritta, which has no “wrong” side, while, the single-needle cavallo stitch is used to finish edges. The strega, with two crossed needles, is typical of saddlery, and is used to join the edges of leather but also to create decorative motifs. The single-needle infiletta designs a long interrupted stitch, perfect for creating decorative motifs incorporating pearls shells and silver beads.
Lastly, the two-needle raffia stitch is used both to join and to decorate the skins.
Special needles are used for these stitches, like the setola, a flexible needle that is perfect for delicate leather and difficult stitches. And there is the rigid steel saddler’s needle with a rounded tip, indispensable for stitching numerous layers. Stitches that guarantee sturdiness and long life. And stitches that embroider leather in various ways, embellished with wooden and silver beads and Venetian murrine, antique glass beads from the turn of the century as well as contemporary examples.
These decorative details have been part of the brand’s very soul since the beginning, giving these products a carefree fresh look and a subtle ethnic touch, the kind of touch that the murrine, created in Venice ad then brought to Africa asd a medium of exchange, convey with their dense, multicoloured hues.
DYEING & TANNING
Once the skins have been removed from the animals, they are stored in salt in refrigerated cells. They are then tanned to keep them from decomposing. The tanning process takes about thirty days and involves various stages.
During the first stage the skins are put into the first drum (a wooden tanning vat; the finest are made from tropical wood) for soaking (to remove the salt) liming (a procedure using lime thet separates the hair from the skin) and fleshing (a process that removes any remaining flesh).
The second stage lasts two days and the skins are put into another drum, where they are delimed, or reacidified by enzymes after the liming and soaking stage, in order to soften them. Once tanning is completed, the skins are removed from the drums and pressed to wring out any excess water. This is followed by initial trimming (the edges of the skins are curt away by hand). In the third drum, the dyeing drum, which is often made of metal and is smaller than those used fot tanning, the skins are put through rollers, an operation know as “setting out” that stretches and cleans the skins. At this point, they are put trough a machine where small hammers positioned approximately 12 inches apart repeatedly pound the skin, effectively “massaging” it.