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Into The Details :: Bellroy Designers Edition Interview

by , April 6, 2017

The new Bellroy Designers Edition range is all about the details. From premium leathers to minimalist forms and thoughtful construction techniques, each piece in the range exudes honed elegance and quality.

Bellroy DE collection

We asked Davin Hanna, Lead Designer on the DE project, to shed some light on the design motivations and creative process  behind Bellroy’s most refined offerings to date…  

Bellroy DE

Historically Bellroy have designed for the every man; that’s been their core. But there’s been a shift of late, with your recent Barneys collab and now DE. Why the move into this new level of refinement? What was the inspiration and driving force?

Barneys was an opportunity for us to be able to play with a different brand and a different audience to deliver things that excited us, without diluting or shifting too far from what we love and what Bellroy is in its core. During the Barneys process, there were things that we were able to use and do, whether it was materials or techniques that kind of changed. But over the years, Bellroy has changed a little, too.

Bellroy

We’re sitting in here in the lab at the moment, and the Bellroy labs are only a few years old. It’s changed the way our creative process has unfolded in the way that we tackle projects, and this meant we’ve been able to tinker a little bit more, we’re able to push techniques of sampling and production, and we are building things in here. We’ve got laser cutters; we’ve got the common things like sewing machines and being able to pattern make. But we’ve also got thermoforming and textiles and leathers here that we can form and press.

Bellroy

So as that creative and product development process has changed for us, we’ve naturally been playing with different things. And some of them are intentional, some are the purpose of the design process, and some are fantastic stumblings, whether they’re small details or an amazing lamination or a texture that comes out or a pressed edge. Sometimes they can be really small, isolated pieces that we just love, or sometimes they can be a full build that represents something unique.

“…the Bellroy labs are only a few years old. It’s changed the way our creative process has unfolded in the way that we tackle projects, and this meant we’ve been able to tinker a little bit more, we’re able to push techniques of sampling and production, and we are building things in here.”

Bellroy

Barneys and also DE was an opportunity where we had accumulated all these great techniques and little pieces that we’ve been stockpiling on a shelf or that we kept as a spare. We pink-tape them, we wrap them with something bright so we don’t lose that, and we tag it and make sure it sits in the forefront of our mind.

Those have been accumulating for Andy [Fallshaw] and for the design team, and this was an opportunity for us to use some of those techniques that weren’t even common for production. It’s fine for us in the lab here to sit down and maybe spend 6 or 12 or 48 hours punching out a one-off sample, but I’m pretty sure you’re not going to be forking out the 25 grand for the one-off sample for labor costs.

Bellroy

So for us it was about delivering producible products to the consumer. And some of those techniques meant that we weren’t going to be able to deliver the value that we can hit with our current range.

So the DE was about taking these great assets, and there happened to be some really beautiful leathers that we had been working with over the years as well, and some really unique textiles that we were developing, and being able to bring everything together. That did mean that we were stepping into a higher price point but there’s so much detail and egotistical things in there (from a designer’s perspective), that we felt that we could really do it justice, stepping up into that space.

Bellroy

So is DE about Bellroy designers designing for them, or Bellroy designers designing for other design-minded people out there, or is it a bit of both?

I think it’s a bit of both. I call it a lovely coincidence. There’s clichés within design, it’s like, ”Oh, my job is to balance form and aesthetic, and to be a minimalist and do this.” But I think the real tension that isn’t spoken about is commerciality. Designers can produce amazing items that can be incredibly expensive. The real tension for me is always about trying to bring that to a commercial sense, and being able to deliver it within a price constraint.

That’s where we got the lid lifted a little bit; we weren’t having to make trade-offs so much on function. A lot of the time we were able to actually say, ”Okay, we can form this lining and not just let it hang; we can control every little length of degree in this,” and not have the banker sitting behind me going, ”Hey, hey, hey, this is going to sort of reach the price point we need to as well.” There still were price constraints within this, but we could do a lot more. We could expand on the leathers that we were using and use different tanneries; we could open what we did from a production sense as well, and I think it’s a combination of those things.

“Designers can produce amazing items that can be incredibly expensive. The real tension for me is always about trying to bring that to a commercial sense, and being able to deliver it within a price constraint. That’s where we got the lid lifted a little bit; we weren’t having to make trade-offs so much on function.”

Bellroy DE

Bellroy DE

So going luxe, more refined, more minimal for the Bellroy loyalists, is there a compromise in functionality?

I don’t think so. The thing that was a little bit different around this is we talked about design editions, the internal Bellroy designers doing what they love. But also, I think, appealing to a market that is drawn to design. Within Bellroy we have a phrase that is sort of ”Beauty and the Geek”. It’s about finding that balance. The products that we’ve launched are always put through that test to find the right balance, and for DE it was about pulling the geek back just a little. I don’t want to say that the designers are superficial and only drawn to the aesthetics but it was about balancing that because I think they lean towards minimalist in that regard. So it was about pulling back a little bit with the geek and letting the beauty shine.

“The thing that was a little bit different around this is we talked about design editions, the internal Bellroy designers doing what they love. But also, I think, appealing to a market that is drawn to design.”

Bellroy DE

For the Bellroy loyalists there are common formats here. There’s a Note Sleeve, there’s a Travel Wallet and there’s all of our great learnings and our fundamentals still within these pieces’ storage access. Just good fundamentals to keep carry slim.

Bellroy DE Travel Wallet

Bellroy DE

Right. So, DE seems like an opportunity for you guys to really let loose and go headlong into the details. Tell us more about what exactly are those fine details you worked on. What makes DE, well, DE?

I’m drawn to details; details for me are the DNA of a product. They are the sum of all of those little beautiful elements that make something aesthetically pleasing in the end result. Here in the lab, and with some other techniques, we were able to change the way that we glued and assembled the parts. We removed a lot of the defaults of the leather world and the manufacturing, the wrapped and rolled edges. We were able to do flat, clean cut edges that have bonded with that stitch line. And we were able to remove a lot of the stitches.

If you dig a little bit deeper and you compare our Note Sleeve to a DE Note Sleeve, we’ve been able to remove a lot of the stitching and some of those construction fundamentals because we’ve elevated the way we’ve laminated some of the leathers and linings to give them that great durability, and traditionally critically sewn areas we’ve been able to remove and slim out and finesse.

“Here in the lab, and with some other techniques, we were able to change the way that we glued and assembled the parts.”

Bellroy Note Sleeve Designers Edition

We’ve got really nice pressed edges on a lot of these. We’ve got a custom liner that we worked with the textile mill to build from the ground up. It’s incredibly durable and has a really unique yarn that gives it a beautiful luster and almost suede-like feel. Then beautiful leathers that are tanned in Europe; they are the next level. You hold the piece of leather and it melts, both in its hand-feel and just the sheer quality. The grain and the grade of the leather is exceptional. So I think it’s a sum of all of those components that push it to that DE aspect.

Bellroy DE

“You hold the piece of leather and it melts, both in its hand-feel and just the sheer quality. The grain and the grade of the leather is exceptional.” 

Bellroy DE

Nice. Walk us through the colorways. Where do these come from?

Like all our projects we start with our color research and color exploration and develop those colors based on a particular audience and trend that we’re looking at. Certainly the black and the burnt sienna share what I call a semi-gloss finish, they’ve got a beautiful sheen. The burnt sienna is a bit of a hail to a classic tan or a classic brown on the lighter side. And I think the green has a little bit of blue to it to balance out that color spectrum so that we’ve got a good mix that’s going to appeal to, I hope, both a female and a male audience. We want to keep you looking fresh.

Bellroy DE

Bellroy DE

So when you up a game, there’s always challenges involved. What were some of the hurdles you had to overcome in the journey?

Two spring to mind. Our production is key to producing wallets in a particular way. And we’ve been really fortunate at Bellroy that one of our first wallet manufacturers grew with us, and we’ve kind of shared techniques and really grown the way that we make and produce wallets. But the DE range required a step up again. I’ve got an amazing team who work around me; they are largely part of the production team, and they work really closely with us as we’re ramping up, and the ideas are evolving into product development before it becomes production. Those guys have been working really hard to make sure that it’s producible.

So I think that was the real tension point. Yes, we were able to make great products within the lab, with great details and resolution, but it was about making them producible at a larger level. And that meant scaling up, it’s meant implementing and working with new adhesive films that the suppliers haven’t worked with before. Them investing and us investing in machinery that enables them to sort of press and form and laminate a lot of the liners and some of the leather. That was the real hurdle as we ramped up rather than a traditional aesthetic tension that feels right and then we can move it to production. This was about really upscaling the way the wallet was built from the ground up.

Bellroy DE

Then the other one that we touched on as well was getting everyone on board with the right balance of beauty and the geek. We have lots of great minds in Bellroy, and they can be engineering thinking and love to get in that geek space. So it was about finding the right balance and letting some of the beauty and detailed manufacturing shine through and not letting too many pull tabs or the geekier side of Bellroy overshadow some of that. The tension was getting that sweet spot.

“This was about really upscaling the way the wallet was built from the ground up.”

Bellroy DE

So being the lead designer of such a project, I’m sure that you’ve learned some things. Any nuggets of wisdom you can pass on to the community?

Something that’s been plugged into me from the early days of Bellroy is that “good” is the enemy of “great”. Since being at Bellroy and working on smaller projects and growing and then being able to work on lead projects, I think that’s something that resonates with me. We can find the good, we can find the good enough, but Bellroy always wants to go to the next level and find that great and not let the good just feel like enough.

“Something that’s been plugged into me from the early days of Bellroy is that “good” is the enemy of “great”.” 

Bellroy DE

Awesome. If you had to select one piece from the collection to put into your own personal pocket, what would it be?

It’s definitely the Card Slip, probably in black. I think it’s a piece that went straight to my heart from the onset. I love the Travel Wallet but I think it just fits my carry needs. I don’t carry more than that; I carry small amounts of storage cards, like three to five cards at most. I love how simple the Card Slip is, and I love that it summarizes all of the DE in the smallest of packages. It’s got all of the same DNA that lives in those other formats, but the functionality is stripped away and it’s just living in its essence.

“I love how simple the Card Slip is, and I love that it summarizes all of the DE in the smallest of packages.”

Bellroy Card Slip Designers Edition

What’s next for you guys?

Lots of things. But I can’t drop any hints. You’ll have to keep watching this space.

“So it was about finding the right balance and letting some of the beauty and detailed manufacturing shine through and not letting too many pull tabs or the geekier side of Bellroy overshadow some of that.”

Bellroy DE

Will do. And good luck on the next project!

Thanks!

Bellroy

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