From his distinctive egg-shaped workshop, self-taught leather craftsman Garvan de Bruir constantly seeks to innovate.
PHOTOGRAPHY Ruth Maria Murphy and Peter Rowen
There is a vicarious pleasure in watching someone do something well, even if you can’t fully comprehend the skill and precision required, and that certainly holds true when it comes to Garvan de Bruir’s work. From his small leather accessories to the large wooden monocoque buildings that form his workshops, you can innately appreciate the beauty of his creations.
“My designs and methodology are fairly simple,” says Garvan as he walks through the sewing room in one of his egg-shaped workshops. “Perhaps my stylistic choices are made unconsciously, but I feel that if I’ve really considered a piece’s functionality, and my skill level is accurate and complements the quality of the leather, then the piece has to come out looking well.”
Producing handmade-to-order leather bags and accessories in his self-built hive-like workspace in Kildare, Garvan somewhat stumbled into his trade. Having trained and worked in what he terms as “diehard cabinet-making” in the UK, he had a brief fling with leather during his graduate project, using a wetting and stretching technique to cover each of his poured aluminium and fibreglass table and chairs, which now has pride of place in his kitchen.
He returned home in 2007 with hopes of setting up a bespoke furniture-making business, but fate, and the economic crisis, stepped in. While exhibiting his work across the country, his laptop bag, born out of necessity from a scrap of leather, was gaining as much interest as his furniture creations. And so, his leather accessories business was born, placing an emphasis on one single piece of leather stitched to form the basis of the bag, providing strength and durability, not unlike the curved roof under which it’s made.
“Leather is a heritage material. It will last for decades to come, so I need to ensure that my craftsmanship does justice to its history and is equally future-proof. I suppose that’s why I don’t focus on fashion or trends, because I want my designs to have longevity and to do that my construction needs to be honest and simple. So even if it does wear in 20 years’ time, a local shoemaker can easily carry out repairs.”
Sourcing his leathers from the UK and Europe, Garvan’s multitude of unique skills, from furniture and wood working to his relatively self-taught leather techniques, means he single-handedly creates every piece that passes through here. “I use a laser cutter to cut the patterns to speed up the process, but construction is all done by hand. None of my core collection could be mass-produced, or even made anywhere else, because of the specific skills and the machinery I use.”
The nature of this rather traditional production means people can be more hands-on about their purchase. You can select your leather and Garvan can add personalisation and customise it however way you like. “Sometimes someone will suggest a new pocket layout and I’ll think, ‘Oh, that’s a much better way of doing it!’” This “old-school arts-and-crafts” style is allowing the De Bruir studio to innovate in ways that a design-house-to-factory simply can’t. “That step just isn’t there, it’s the difference between designing with the material structure in mind, as opposed to purely adorning something.”
While day-to-day business is occupied with “old-school” leather craft, as a maker, Garvan is constantly trying to innovate. Enterprise Ireland is currently looking to manufacture his workshop building design, so miniature gable ends and roof arches littered the shelves on our visit. There is also a collection of wax cotton and leather jackets in the works, designed as functional work jackets but, like every De Bruir creation, are also very aesthetically charming. “Then, the odd time, we’ll get a request for one of our timber swing designs, which requires a four-metre-long crate just to ship it. The last one we made was sent to San Francisco, so there’s always something curious going on here.”
“Leather is one of our most resilient materials, and I think that we’ve kind of forgotten it in favour of non-renewable materials made in labs,” says Garvan, “and I think there are pioneering techniques and technology that have yet to be applied to leather that celebrates its flexibility, reusability and strength.” So there are still discoveries to be made with one of man’s oldest materials, and don’t be surprised if you hear it’s coming from a wooden egg in the Thoroughbred County.