Workshop: Damien the leather Compagnion
Meet the Companion
Damien, how did you specialise in Leather?
As a child, I was day dreaming that later I will become a car designer… So I naturally sought for a a vocational training, which proposed practical teachings. In France, the best training in this area is given by “les Compagnons du Devoir“.
I believe that the best way to learn in craftsmanship is to evolve slowly and see all the aspects of work. The vocational training with the Companions is exactly doing this. You learn step by step, in a process that lasts 7 years. In the first years of my training, I realised that I would get more opportunities working as a leather craftsman than as a car designer.
Thus, I started my « Tour de France » of the Companions in 1997. I was 20. The first city I headed to was Bordeaux, then I went to the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium (with Delvaux), Switzerland, Morocco, then I came back to Paris for Louis Vuitton (design office and studio). I finished my “Tour” with Céline in London.
Damien, the leather wizard
The ``Compagnons du Devoir``
The Compagnons du devoir proposes a traineeship based on a vocational training which is divided in 3 steps: first you join as an ” Apprentice“, then once adopted by the companions Community you are upgraded to “Aspiring Companion” to carry on your vocational training. At the end of the traning, you are required to submit your “Masterwork” which is submitted to the approval of the Companions’ Board. If accepted, you get the title of “Compagnon”.
How did you ``Tour`` shape you?
My “Tour” with the Compagnons du Devoir was extremely important for the young man I was. Despite its name “Tour de France”, I undertook most of my training abroad where I was lucky enough to meet wonderful professionals who greatly inspired me. I am still in touch with them today. I was 20 when I joined the Companons, which is very late. Usually, you join when you are 14. So I was more mature, I guess and more determined in learning to become as skilled as possible.
What moves you?
Why do I like so much what I do? I think the most important thing is the smile of appreciation on my cliens’ face when they see what I have done. Inspiration can take many shapes. But I am most inspired by simple things. I rely on my wild imagination to give a twist to my creativity. For example, I can come up with a twisted swirl of leather, after looking at an ivy on a tree.
The 'Masterwork' is the final step of the Companion's training. What was yours?
My Masterwork was a travelling writing case. It was tan (camel colour), hand stitched with a white 12 strings threads, with crushed raspberries coloured Alcantra panels. On the outside, there were some yoks at the corners, stitched in white thread again. It looked like an old luxurious case, similarly to the ones Hermès did.
Tell us about one of your outstanding projects
The infamous Charlie Davidson approached me with an incredible project, he designed a unique seat and was looking for someone who could manufacture it. It is truly an impressive piece, it is a long seat shaped in a black leather corset on the outside and pink in the inside. The foot are in the shape of stilettos… I was very happy to be able to give “life” to this beautiful seat.
I also participated in the interior design of some mega yacht and super yacht. We work on unique leather pieces, such as wall panels, flooring, staircases handrails or even buffalo leather bathroom walls…
I have also been asked to install some eel’s leather inside a chandelier. Oh! and yes… once I have been asked to cover the interior of gym bells with galuchat, which is the leather of a ray fin, one of the rarest leather in the world.
OBJECT OF DESIRE [Design Charlie Davidson].
BEHIND DE SCENES
How do give life to your artworks?
I usually start with sketches, which I validate with the Client. This preliminary phase can stretch a bit depending on the Client. I only start a project once my Client is fully content. I also validate the colours, the type of leather in this phase. Then, I will start what I call “the development”, which starts with a prototype. The prototype enables us to adjust the concept before I start working with the real material. It often have “carte blanche” and I skip the preliminary phase to start straight away on my vision…
LIGHTS & COLOURS
What is your favorite colour (on leather)?
I prefer bright colours. Instinctively, I would go for blue… wait, no… I also like red, or green.
Thinking about it, I am not sure whether I care for the colours or on how the light awakes the colours. Without light, colours are still, boring. In my experience, most of the people will choose neutral colours on leather, either grey, black or white. I try to bring them to more lively colours or natural colours.
“In Notting Hill, in London,
I covered a desk with pistachio green leather
with a bright fuchsia leather in the inside.”
The workshop, the perfect cut, Damien leather Craftsman.
How does the gilding process work on leather?
- First, we sketch what we would like to be gilded. It is called a “stamp”
- We use this stamp on a hot press (around 120°c)
- We take the leather piece and position it under the press.
- Then, we press firmly for a couple of second on the leather, with a gold leaf in between
What makes a beautiful leather piece?
When I look at a beautiful piece of leather, all I see is the know-how it required. You can feel the passion, the time spent over it. You also understand the time and expertise it required… The French know-how in leather craftsmanship is an expression of a certain everyday sophistication. The training with the Companions is quite extensive as it lasts 7 years. In France, we are very lucky to have such a craftsmanship inheritance. Of course, trends are mutating, but the level of requirements is transferred and it keeps diffusing in our modern days.
What is the most beautiful leather piece you have ever seen?
One of the most remarkable leather gem I have seen: a trapeze travelling back from 1900 in one piece of crocodile leather. It was a very long bag (90cm) with a doctor lock, in camel colour. This was incredible… and it was forgotten on a shelf in the Louis Vuitton mending workshop. When I saw it, I could not believe my eyes…