- Buyer's Guide
American Luxury Defined :: Interview with Parabellum
As a photographer with a background in marketing and PR, John Pangilinan has made many connections with brands that offer carry goods. He is no stranger to getting creative with words either, contributing to the likes of TheHundreds.com, Fatlace.com, Resized.com, Super Street magazine, and Motor Trend magazine. We’re excited to welcome John as our new contributor and hope you enjoy his interview with luxury carry brand Parabellum…
Parabellum grew from the dreams of two friends who wanted to change the conversation on what American luxury is and can be. Co-founders Jason Jones and Mike Feldman met through the desire to pursue something they were both passionate about for the rest of their lives. Born and raised in Hollywood, Jason worked at his father’s antique store before pursuing a career in fashion and apprenticing for a local leather maker. Mike grew up in Michigan and began building businesses before making his move out West. The brand is known for pairing military-grade ceramic hardware with supple and textured free-range American bison leather in a collection of goods that include wallets, key chains, belts, hand bags, duffel bags, valet trays, and more. Parabellum recently opened their first retail venture with a flagship store located on Melrose Avenue, the famous Los Angeles shopping destination. I sat down with Jason and Mike to learn more about their design process, production, and why they are reinventing American Luxury.
What is the essence of the brand?
Jason: Juxtaposition of old and new. Traditionalism and technology. Future classic, classic future. Also, complete ownership of our process. We are hyperaware of every single process of our production. We know where our hides come from. We know who stitched every piece… Few brands can say that. We maintain dialogue and interaction with every person and piece of our process, from ranch to factory to consumer.
What key insights drive your product and design?
Jason: We spend a lot of time really thinking things out and designing products that will last forever. I am always especially conscious of how things will wear. Anyone can make something look nice on a shelf before it sells, but I really strive to build things that will get better with age and wear.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Jason: Architecture and the American woman.
Can you elaborate on how that fits into your design process?
Jason: I come from the philosophy that everything we do is architecture. A bag is not just a loose thing. There’s a structure, there’s a manner in which it interacts with its environment. To me, a bag borrows more aesthetic cues from a building rather than fashion. As for the American Woman… She’s the pillar of strength. She’s the under-recognized but imperative piece of the American persona. I want our customers to carry our bags like they own the world. She doesn’t need a man. And that concept works across gender. I’m inspired by the under-appreciated but invaluable.
What are you most proud of with Parabellum?
Mike: The fact that Jason and I are still friends!
Jason: That we’re reinventing American Luxury. We’re the new benchmark of American quality.
How does Parabellum fit in the luxury market?
Jason: We think there is a void of American Luxury in this segment. At the end of the day…we are “The” American Luxury brand.
How do you define American luxury?
Jason: Ingenuity, creativity, entrepreneurialism, indelibility. These are some of the qualities that are usually associated with American industry, but not luxury. And of course heritage. American heritage is ingrained in our product. Not overtly, but we look at every panel, piece of hardware and shape and we ask ourselves “Is this American Luxury… Is this forever?” It might be subtle, but we make sure it’s there.
What do you feel separates Parabellum from other brands?
Jason: We use a shape we call the “cog” which is ubiquitous amongst everything that we make and do. It is essentially a square with cut corners, and you can see it in the shape of our wallets, business cards, the ends of our bracelets and key straps, the connection points between our handles and our bags and much, much more. Actually, even the front door of our store has that same 45-degree angle cut corner. I call our design aesthetic “new colonial”. I don’t know if it comes from growing up amongst so many antiques or what, but it speaks to me and I really like to add a modern sensibility to the structures of old.
How do you maintain quality control for your products?
Mike: We are there the whole way through. We buy raw Bison hides, then oversee their tanning. We make most of our hardware right here in LA, and all design, prototyping and production is done right here as well. We are intimately involved in every detail of what we produce, and as such we make the small decisions that translate into exceptional finished goods at the end of the day. I don’t think you can do that when you outsource materials and production. You switch from being a producer to becoming just another consumer.
What separates Bison leather from others?
Mike: It is naturally so rich and beautiful that it is really hard to believe when you compare it to other leathers. There have been a lot of brands using lamb that is treated to look like Bison because it is easier to find and to work with. They want to show that deep texture, so they manufacture it. But, the texture wears out and it does not last. Bison leather is natural and it lasts forever. It is part of our American heritage, and it has more soul than anything else on the market by far. We really appreciate the optimism, idealism and the humanity that we find throughout the small but diverse Bison community.
Why is production in the USA so important?
Mike: It is important for us to cherish and promote the sophisticated manufacturing and craftsmanship that has always taken place here. It has always been the backbone of this country. It’s fine for us to be great consumers, but if we want to continue to do that we need to always be exceptional producers as well. I grew up in Detroit and I have seen what happens to the community when your skilled craftsmen start to disappear. On a personal level, it is very important for Jason and I to be a part of the change and to feel like we are helping a community bigger than just ourselves. On a professional level, I don’t understand how you can make truly exceptional leather goods without being in the leather shop every day and diligently focusing on the details. We live here in LA, so that means we have to produce here.
How did you choose Melrose as the location for your retail venture?
Mike: Melrose west of Fairfax is the heart of our neighborhood, and it is a stretch of retail with a storied past that is rapidly filling in and building itself back up again. It’s nice to be a part of that comeback.
Jason: I have lived my entire life in Hollywood and West Hollywood. I’ve been a member of the same gym right around the block (Easton) for over 20 years. This is my neighborhood, and I can’t think of a better place to open our flagship store than right here at home. Plus, when we realized that this epic building with the brick walls and the cut corner front was available, there was no question.
How important is having a flagship store for the brand?
Mike: It’s important to us as a step. We’ve been very fortunate with our existing wholesale partnerships and those will always be nurtured and respected, but it’s our own retail space. It’s curated, it’s complete… It’s our DNA spread across 1200 square feet. It’s really the only place that customers can see our full range and everything that we make.
What is next for the brand?
Mike: I can’t say what, but I can say that there is a lot on the way.
What other brands do you feel are creating great product for carry?
Jason: Thom Browne.
Mike: Mystery Ranch.
Which carry product are you most proud of?
Jason: The Medicine Woman bag.
Mike: The Briefcase.
What is your go-to carry bag?
Jason: Parabellum Briefcase in Tomato with Black Ceramic Hardware!
Mike: The Day Bag and The Wooster.
What is in your everyday carry (EDC)?
Jason: Smart phone, knife. PSP, Beats headphones, arrow key chain, all in one of our micro pouches.
Mike: Keys to my Buick Lacrosse, MacBook Pro, Oliver Peoples Linford frames, dog treats.