Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lotuff

Brothers Joe (left) and Rick (right) Lotuff
In many ways, sartorially, we currently live in a barren, shameless era.
  • Ugliness is status quo, and gaudiness embraced.
  • So many incredibly expensive items are sold that have been incredibly cheaply made.
  • Short term thinking prevails, from customers wanting instant status to vendors wanting crazily high profit margins.
  • The people who should be leading us - publications, celebrities, many of the most well off, and grown-ups in general - aren't.
  • To those who do care, vendors actively mislead us about pedigrees of products. Branding is not just tangential to reality, but often at odds with it.



I believe the assaults on taste and fair value are just trends, not the result of some Hegelian dialectic. These market patterns are cyclical not linear. They will reverse over time. But I am impatient.

So with that in mind, if The Daily Prep readers were asked to imagine a luxury line of products that could compete globally on, for example, the Main Floor of Barneys, what might their commandments be?

I suspect they would include:
  • Be made in the U.S., and for some, preferably even in New England
  • Use very high quality materials.
  • Use very high quality craftsmanship.
  • Epitomize simple, timeless designs. The product should be as understated as possible, yet beautiful. The quality should enable a Shaker-esque (or is it better to say Steve Jobs-esque) simplicity. It should have absolutely no bling or unnecessary adornments. 
  • Design so that the product will be in service 30 years now. Parts inevitably destined to be worn should be easy to replace. In fact, it should get better with age. Of course the company itself should stand behind the products.
These are, interestingly enough, the same guidelines (albeit in my words) Lotuff is following. Their goal is to embody these principles.

I was able to spend an afternoon with Rick and Joe Lotuff and their team in their New England facility.  And I was also able to watch my own handbag being made.

We started off talking about design.
I was reminded of the quote "A designer knows that he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away" - Antoine de St-Expurey
 Craftsmen, some with over 30 contiguous years of experience around building and repairing bags, add a perspective around design, especially when the explicit goal is to create products that will last that long and longer.
Lindy discussed nuanced changes to the Signature Handbag...

...here in Red.
  
I loved hearing about the design decisions and philosophies in practice.
  
I learned about interiors and layouts.
  
I made the faux pas of handling one of the bags gingerly. Joe set me straight. (Insert your own early days of football reference here!)
The manufacturing process starts with the vegetable-tanned leather.
Rick explained why they use vegetable tanned leather. The more popular alternative is to use an iron based process (chromium) which actually rusts over time, leading to cracks in the leather.
  
Stacks of Leather

For precision, each product is cut one at a time. (Mass producing, in contrast, requires the cutting of stacks at a time, which often results in mismatched shapes.) 

The tools included modern and ancient.



I must say it was a thrill to see my own Navy bag being made.




(And I got to choose my number!)



These bags have no exterior logo (mine just has my initials).    Excuse my effusiveness, but that is just so amazing.  Historically, it recalls the old custom suits.  But in today's brand-obsessed world, when purchases are made first to be shown off, having a product that projects substance from every pore rather than relying on the crutch of a super-sized logo seems so civilized.
 
 
And then the real assembly began.
The hammer is an incredibly useful and satisfying tool of the trade.
While my bag was being built, I enjoyed seeing some of the final steps (like fire) being applied to other items.
The final Lotuff products glow.
The Exquisite Lotuff Small Leather Tote

A New Briefcase, the Lotuff Wells Bag...
...and the Lotuff iPad Case.
We ended the day discussing future plans and the state of the market. And hair.
 

Rick, Joe, Greg, and Lindy
I know of a few authors who visit this blog on a regular basis. This forces me to reflect how frustratingly static my own lack of arc must be for them. 

Having said that, perhaps the substantive journey of record here is not mine but New England's. Because at the same time the largest corporations are pandering to the lowest brow tastes (and collectively scuttling their organizations for the next generation in the process), many emerging companies written about here are competing at all market price points and all over the world by uniquely meeting the needs of new breeds of customers with classic tastes. 

Together, they are creating, taking on, and leading previously ceded market segments (and employing our neighbors in the process). This export of taste and values and even sanity is the true tale worth chronicling.

As I write this, I wait for my Lotuff bag, which needed some finishing steps, to arrive via UPS.  I am excited.  So you will forgive me and understand if I abruptly lea...

51 comments:

Mary Elizabeth C. said...

Oh, yes Muffy! Excellent. You are spot on again. Excuse me also, while I go the their web site and order a new...

Barbara said...

Bravo! Through this blog I’ve discovered so many wonderful American designers, manufacturers, purveyors of classic merchandise. Keep up the quest and we will continue to patronize them.

Anonymous said...

I was not even aware of this brand... very nice. Expensive, but no doubt these are pieces one will be able to use for life. Thanks for the tip.

I notice you just refer to their "New England" location, and even their own website does not include a town or state. The articles to which they link mention Ware, MA, and Fall River, MA. Do they intentionally keep the locations under wraps? Why... I'd love a bag from the city in which Lizzie Borden murdered her parents. :-)

Suburban Princess said...

Your new bag looks gorgeous so far!
I can't wait to see the final product!
Your adventure looks like the same thrill I get when I visit a cobbler.

I was in the mall the other night looking for a pair of dressy pants. I couldn't find a single thing for an adult woman. Everything is disposable and made for teenagers! If only clothes were still made for grownups who want to wear them for life!

TropicalSunbird said...

Muffy, I appreciate that fact that you succinctly expressed the frustration and exasperation I often feel. (I work in St. Louis, MO. it's one of the gruffest places I've ever been.) One good thing the Internet has done for me has been to make it easier to connect with people who do still care about quality, integrity, creativity and mastery. Oh dear, I'm venting... Those Lotuff bags look absolutely beautiful; I do hope you enjoy yours. Have a good evening.

Anonymous said...

Such beautiful bags! May I ask about the canvas and leather bag you are carrying?

Muffy Aldrich said...

@Anonymous 7:34 - It is my mother's old Ghurka bag from thirty years ago.

Anonymous said...

I am 70 years old, and I am so glad to see this kind of artisanship alive and well in our country!

Thank you, Muffy, for sharing!

Rachel said...

I love that tote! At first I thought it might be overpriced then I remembered I have 10 handbags that I might have paid $50 each for. I could have just one perfect tote for the price of 10 not so great bags. You do make me think twice before I buy anything new.

John said...

As I was reading this tonight, I had just given up on trying to report an intermittent malfunction to my internet provider. I'd spent 10 minutes navigating the voice-activated menus and the failed attempts of the robot to engineer a fix, was then promised a chance to speak to a live rep, waited for 10 more minutes, and was cut off. There are third world countries where one can probably get better quality and service than this, but there seems no limit to how much of it modern Americans are willing to put up with, by simple dint of having become so inured to it. As an audience we would enjoy these treasures you unearth for us even in the best of circumstances. The way things are, they seem nothing short of miraculous.

Marie said...

A beautiful piece of workmanship. I still have bags that I purchased at Saks in 1970-beautiful leather-no logo-and still useful today. Your piece also reminds me of the Leather School in Florence, from which I have a purse made in 1971 when I was studying abroad. In our logo obsessed world it is reasuring to find artisans who realize the beauty of simplicity.

Jacob Phelps said...

Lotuff is an exceptional brand. Thank you for the post!

Kionon said...

I had heard of Lotuff, and as someone who spends a great deal of time trying to figure out, "is this worth the money, will this last, will it be passed down..." when making a purchase, I always appreciate the way you look into companies where the answers are yes across the board.

I have found that while for some, searching through thrift stores and Goodwill and the like is for legitimate financial reasons (which is why I support such organisations, both for the products they have and the jobs they provide), some of us do it simply because it is the only way to locate items that we can trust are well made.

My recent blazer acquisition is a good example of this. I purchased it for $4, in what appears to be new condition, Union-Made in the USA, with obvious signs of hand stitching. Further investigation reveals that the blazer was made sometime between 1976 and 1985, probably, due to lapel style, in the early 1980s.

Until becoming actively involved in the blogosphere I had come to the conclusion that such quality and craftsmanship no longer existed in the United States. Now I am part of a conversation, and a community, which not only reveals that they do, but shows the craftsmen that their talent and their products are wanted by many.

teamaldrich said...

I spied your Ghurka immediately. I look forward to inheriting my Aunt's. (Not really, but you know what I mean!)

Amy said...

Thanks from me also for spotlighting an American manufacturer who does it the right way. Please keep on keeping us in the know!

Pete said...

Wonderful idea for my wife's b-day...thank you !!

Kerry @ Design du Monde said...

I had not heard of this brand before today. Recently I have been looking for a simple classic bag that won' t fall apart in 2 months. It seems that whatever the "bag du jour" quality is the last feature to be considered and is very often left out entirely.
Headed over to look for a bag.

Anonymous said...

Wowww, no logos no shiny buckles no gratuitous bunchesgatherscinches, these bags are sheer perfection. Slightly reminiscent of very early Coach bags. Thank you so much for this tour, and for the link to their feast-for-the-eyes website!

-Flo

Sartre said...

I was thinking about a new brief case from T. Anthony. Maybe I'll consider this firm instead.

I like your comment about "previously ceded market segments." That's definitely one recipe for success.

Brian said...

Great write-up and photos. I always love seeing the inner workings of these types of manufacturers. I take it the Lotuffs and Frank (Clegg) parted ways civilly? His products seem to be garnering quite a bit of attention also.

Love the bags, too. I take pleasure in buying my wife vintage Dooney & Bourke bags (All-Weather-Leather, made in USA) but I think she'd get an even bigger kick out of being involved in the process of designing her ideal bag. It's a shame that so few people (my wife included) can't distinguish between the projection of quality (via branding or a label) versus actual quality.

Anonymous said...

I love the red bag- it's beautiful!

I just discovered your blog about a month ago and I am really enjoying it! Keep up the great work.

Anonymous said...

I have your same Gurka handbag, along with three matching travel bags of various sizes that my husband and I purchased in the 70's. It was a great splurge for us at the time but we recognized the supurb craftmanship and quality. We are now in our mid 60's. I feel both old and timeless! I am glad to see someone else using the tote bag. I think I will start using it and enjoying it more!

Susan R said...

How is it that you just seem to find all these wonderful places? I mean it. You highlight some of the most wonderful companies. Some of them may be well known and others not so well known, but all wonderful examples of true craftsmanship, ethics and standards. Well done.
I have nothing against foreign made products, not in the least. I do, however, have a very hard time remaining rational when I see a mass produced item selling for an outrageous price that is coming from India, Thailand, Cambodia or some other country that employs children at $1.00 a day (if that) and you know that product was purchased for a monumental fraction of what it's being sold for.

Staircase Witch said...

Those are beautiful bags.

I think there are a lot of intelligent, skilled, but unemployed workers across the U.S. -- certainly in New England, but also across the Midwest and the South -- who would love the opportunity to train and work for companies like this, at living wages. I try to buy American-made wherever possible and don't mind paying premium prices for well-made, elegant (in both senses of the word) things that will last forever, as long as I know that the people who produced them were fairly compensated and able to take pride in their work. It's the way free enterprise really should work.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the resurgence of small US companies focusing on quality and attention to detail is worthy of celebration. However, what makes pieces like the Lotuff ones especially great is that while they satisfy that nostalgic element, they are not nostalgia pieces. They are, in fact, completely current.

I, too, will pay a small premium for something I know has been made here in the US. But these pieces are so good that they would sell regardless of where they were being made.

Anonymous said...

Ghurka is no longer made in USA. The Lotuff bags remind me of the old Coach...also no longer made in USA. How wonderful that this company is still with us!

Anonymous said...

These remind me, also, of the early Coach bags. I still have mine from my college days, both made in U.S.A. No logos, very simple and very functional. Still use them!
Cheers,
Bitsy

lynne howell said...

amen to all of this.I dislike blinged-out and/or logo-decorated handbags but they are so popular.

Anonymous said...

As a proud owner of a Lotuff bag and a fan of your blog, I couldn't be any more pleased to see you do a piece on the brand. The Lotuff tote is by far my favorite accessory. I often get compliments on its superior craftsmanship and outstanding beauty. I hope you enjoy your bag and the happiness it brings you for years to come. Keep up the great finds!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Muffy. This reminded me of another great post you did on Leather Man. People who are interested in New England leather goods may also enjoy browsing Frank Clegg's Leatherworks at www.FrankCleggLeatherworks.com. I hope, Muffy, you could do a post on them as well.

ms. mindless said...

What a neat process for you to observe! I wish I could afford one of those bags. Something to add to my maybe, in a million years wish list!

Squeeze said...

An incisive and inspiring article.

Anonymous said...

I love your posts and always learn so much. I especially love your field trips! I know how busy you are, and that you do these posts in your free time, but let me agree with the other commenter that if you could do a piece someday on Frank Clegg and his products, that would be great. I have always thought of him as a true American craftsman and design visionary. Also, I have been hearing more about Narragansett Leathers (http://www.narragansettleathers.com/). Do you think you could ever review any of their products? Thank you for your consideration.

Chris from New Hampshire said...

Muffy,

I can't wait to see your bag. There is something so great about getting a product knowing you will have it for decades. It feels more like a friend and companion than just another thing.

Lisa said...

LOVE the "These bags have no exterior logo (mine just has my initials)." aspect. I remember back in the early 80's when everyone had to have an Izod, polo pony, gloria vanderbilt or calvin klein logo plastered somewhere on their body and Bottega Veneta came out with the slogan "When your own initials are enough". that struck a chord with me and has stayed with me ever since. thank you for the heads up on this US company. I have a feeling that in the future my "own initials are enough."

Lisa said...

I have a Ghurka bag from the 80's that is still in use, much loved and has a great patina. It's not my mother's, it's mine.

Grace said...

What a gorgeous bag! And I couldn't agree more about the virtues of logo-free.

Miss M said...

I love that black gator/croc duffel! Droooool.
I like these bags they are a happy medium between Coach and Hermes.Very nice.

Zenas313 said...

Chapeau, Muffy!

Another great post and seeing the work behind the scenes like this makes one (i) appreciate the value received for the price paid, and (ii) take seriously the imperative to seek out and buy products and services from "local" sources (albeit New England is not really local to me). The Lotuff Bros. owe you a bag or two - I would never have considered one of their products until reading this post . . . but I will buy one now.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

These bags are truly "built"-- love this post and I'm sure I'll be carrying one of their bags myself.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a bag, that I love. But when I saw this I thought "yes, that is the bag I want forever" and then ordered. Damn you Daily Prep (and thank you!!!!)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anonymous 9:13AM on 1/19. Old coach classic, and I think this could be passed down. LOVE, thanks

Reese said...

I wasn't familiar with Lotuff, but now I am craving items from them! I don't think my Coach and Mark Cross (back from when both companies were making solid merchandise) purses (so many!) and briefcases (one from each company) will ever die, but I want a Lotuff Work Tote and Standard Purse. I'm sure I'll find some excuse to acquire both. Thanks for the heads up on what looks to be a wonderful company!

Anonymous said...

Love your blog! Query re. the zippers on the Lotuff"s.....are they rough on the hand? This is one reason why I don't like the zips on Coach. Thanks.

BlueTrain said...

I believe your initial comments could easily have been written a hundred years ago, just as well as last week.

old said...

Nice to see Americsn craftsmanship is thriving at Lotuff.

Great products and superior value.

Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Enjoy it.
-linda,ny

Anonymous said...

Muffy, what is your opinion of the Longchamp Le Pliage tote bags?

Brian Morisky said...

Looks like a fine bag, the only disappointment is the machine sewing, personally I prefer the more traditional waxed linen hand sewn leather goods to machine sewing which has small (minor but visible) buckles, not visible to most but I am always able to spot in my Lotuff tote. I have nothing like that Lotuff machine-induced buckling on my Herm├Ęs Steve messenger.

SMT said...

Love the craftsmanship of Lotuff products, but not finding what I need, I am on the hunt for a quality US made leather business card case. Any suggestions?

Michael Rowe said...

Lotuff is perfection.
@SMT, have you contacted them about a custom order for your business card case?