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All of my adult life, I have been searching for that elusive, perfect tote bag; not a luxury bag, per se, but a bag that has all the features that I want.
While living in Tokyo for six glorious and glamorous years in the early aughts, I felt that I was in heaven, with so many mens bag options available for my choosing. The ones I ended up buying the most were from a company called Yoshida, and their product was (and is still) marketed as the Porter Bags. They were made of soft but durable materials, with many features that I liked (slip-in pockets here, zippered pockets there, etc.) And yet, when I tried to find those features in a leather version, I just could not find the right one. At least to me, there was none.
Throughout my life, I always felt that if the item that I desired did not exist, then I should create it, even if it meant acquiring the skills to make it happen. The last time that happened was when I wanted a long and narrow scarf, which did not exist. I sought the help of my late friend in Canada to teach me how to knit.
This friend, Kiyo, who had since passed on at the age of 95, taught me the basics of knitting over a movie starring our shared favorite: Bette Davis. My friend, the frugal type, had fashioned the knitting needles out of a pair of mid-length bamboo chopsticks she had gotten from Chinese food takeouts. She whittled one end of the chopstick into a dull point, and presented a pair to me. That was my introduction to knitting. I ended up knitting my ideal scarf (but lost it a few years later) before retiring due to "tennis elbow" injuries.
I reasoned that if I could have Kiyo teach me how to knit, certainly I could find someone who can teach me how to make a leather bag; so I set out to find a mentor. A simple Google Search results in what could not have been more perfect on paper: Béatrice Amblard. She had previously worked for Hermès for 14 years, becoming the second ambassador of Hermès Paris to the United States. With Hermès already having the flagship outpost in New York, they set their sight on the City by the Bay, San Francisco.
She left the company to start her own shop, April in Paris, when businesses like hers were non-existent in the city at the time. She designed, produced, branded, marketed, and sold her own brand.
My own long term relationship with Hermès started in the Fall of 1977 on my first trip to Europe, when I was not even10 years of age. I barely had any concept of luxury, but somehow this was one store and company that I ended up "following" over the decades. I adore their design and aesthetic, admire their craftsmanship, and constantly in awe of the quality of the materials used.
I enrolled at the Amblard Leather Atelier on Clement St. San Francisco in their intensive 4-level program (48 sessions of 8-hour days) in February of 2020. Unfortunately, the first Covid-19 lockdown in San Francisco was the earliest ever in the United States, and it brought my apprenticeship to a screeching halt. Luckily by then I almost finished Level II, so I was able to review and to experiment with new designs, using the skills that I had learned before the lockdown.
With all the nations borders closing, it was a struggle to gather all the tools that were manufactured in Europe. I got whatever I could from Amblard shop online, as well as places like Rocky Mountain Leather.
Eventually, the lockdown notwithstanding, I finished my training at Amblard Leather Atelier in the Fall of 2020. Since then, my studio has seen a steady parade of machines, devices, tools, and supplies marching into it. I am currently doing small accessory items (such as credit card wallets and valet trays) to hone my skills at stitching and edge-finishing, before moving into larger items such as clutches and tote bags. I hope that the time spent doing the small items will prepare me well to tackle the bigger items.