What I love about Japan is finding the craftsman who make goods of exceptional quality in the most unassuming of places. In quiet corners in large cities you will find the person who masters their trade over many years diligently working day in and day out producing something outstanding.
I was fortunate to meet a few of these people in my trip – workers at a horse leather factory which is third generation; a solo leather maker who patiently works in his studio alongside his wife who makes artificial flowers. It’s a honourable way to work.
The modus operandi is to do something and do it well. It’s not about making quick money or selling something for the most you can. Or buying something cheap and selling it for more than it’s worth. It’s a philosophy which focuses on the craft and the skill. It’s a philosophy I really can’t do justice to here, because it involves a far more detailed explanation. That work philosophy deserves a blog post of it’s own.
But it’s refreshing change from the culture I come from where “a bargain” is to be prized and chased. If you buy something for less than it sells at retail, you’ve “won”. In that contest there is clearly a winner and a loser. The aim is to be the winner. And when there is a winner, there is always a loser. Usually it’s the smaller maker.
But the people I met have a different approach to their business.
The team of craftsmen I met in Kobe, one of the large port cities in the south of Japan, are those from Cornelian Taurus, a small atelier which has been making quality leather bags and accessories for a decade. They are newcomers in Japanese terms. When you buy one of these you won’t be getting a bargain (by current definition). It won’t be cheap. But it will be beautifully hand crafted by talented makers who take pride in what they do to create something that will last.
Daisuke Iwanaga is the designer and craftsman behind his brand Cornelian Taurus. He worked in fashion before starting this business so he knows the cycle of fashion and the constant demand for reinvention. Making bags has been his hobby since first learned leather making in high school. When working in fashion, he made himself a leather tote bag and it was slung over his shoulder when doing the rounds of delivering and picking up ranges to retail shops. He was often asked where he bought it, and when the answer was that he made it, he received requests to make one. It was his hobby job, the bags he made in his spare time and sold to work acquaintances.
Trade got busier and there was a steady flow of orders. About 10 years ago he made the leap from his job and started Cornelian Taurus, his distinct brand of bags. He works with his brother, Shinsuke and another two fellow makers. They have the workshop atelier and a gallery next door, called Cultivate Gallery.
They use predominantly equine leather (horses) because it’s strong, soft and can have a really smooth, polished almost glossy finish. They use leather from various suppliers around Japan, including Cordovan in Himeji, a factory I visited, which is a third generation equine leather tannery. Each bag is made by hand on old sewing machines, Daisuke has been using for years. It’s not a quick process but the result is a beautifully pieced together item.
I ventured into their workshop and showroom in central Kobe, it’s a gorgeous vintage style workshop which is very compact (like anywhere you go in Japan,) but set up so cleverly so that everything has a place and nothing looks out of place.
The shelving, furniture and finishes have an industrial retro feel. You just want to work there!
8 years ago Cornelian Taurus was written up in Italian Vogue as one of the next up and coming brands to look watch out for, and there has been a steady flow of media stories since. Via the trade shows in Europe, their bags are sold in high-end boutiques dotted across Europe and at Barney’s in New York.
There are several bags styles in their range from wallets and small handbags, backpacks, briefcases to larger overnight bags. The one I really like, and is their hallmark design is a large soft tote. It’s a typically Japanese everyday work bag which packs in more than your large handbag, styled to suit men and women, featuring sturdy woven handles.
One of the other products that caught my attention is a neat and compact hand bag in a shiny black finish uses a Japanese wood lacquer-like finish on a bumpy surface.
The design of this handle is their trademark – the weaving is the same pattern used to weave the fabric on the handle of a Japanese sword – a beautiful design motif which has the functional purpose of making the handle stronger. The hardware used for the bags is Japanese and of excellent quality – heavy and hard wearing brass and silver.
This is the theme of Cornelian Taurus. They create accessories with a design aesthetic which has universal appeal with elements which are distinctly Japanese. They’re made with techniques learned from craftsman re-invented by a new generation for a discerning consumer who values quality and longevity. It’s not fast fashion. But it is fastidious fashion. The type of fashion where you and the maker both win.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the range or would like to buy, they do not currently have a stockist in Australia. Their website is www.corneliantaurus.com, or you can contact direct at: [email protected]