MEET THE MAKERS #2 – LEATHERWORK

A behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workshops of the craftspeople creating the Budvar Bike

JAKE COLLIER, LEATHERWORKER
Jake Collier, Club & Fang, London, UK

It won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows the Budvar story that we have something of a passion for people whose work – just like our brewing – involves true dedication, skill, mastery of craft, respect for tradition and going the extra mile to deliver perfection.

One of the great things about our partnership project with BOLT Motorcycles is that we get to meet a whole bunch of inspiring and gifted craftspeople currently working on the Budvar Bike. As you can imagine, turning the raw ingredients of what was a boxy old 1980’s model JAWA CZ into a thing of beauty has required some serious skills. And as well as the skill and vision of Andrew and Simone at BOLT, the bike’s customisation is giving a glimpse into some incredible traditional crafts, like fabrication, leatherwork and sign-writing.

In this mini-series, we’re following Andrew around the workshops as the bike is being transformed, catching up over a cold Budvar with each of the makers working on it. This time it’s Jake Collier from Club & Fang, London.

Jake left his native New Zealand in 2001 after establishing a career in leatherwork on TV shows Xena Warrior Princess and Hercules – skills gained after years making leather gear in Auckland to sell at punk gigs for beer money. In the years since leaving NZ Jake has lived and worked in Sydney, Melbourne, Berlin, Helsinki, Prague, and London, where he is currently based and where he founded his Club & Fang leatherwork label. Jake also works as prop master and leatherworker with many Hollywood films and TV shows to his name, including Farscape, The Pacific, Prometheus, Thor, The Crown and Wonder Woman. When not on location, Jake spends his time tinkering with and riding motorcycles.

How long have you been working with leather?

Leatherworking professionally about 25 years; carving like this a good 15.

How did you get into hand-tooling and leatherwork?

My dad had an old barrel in the shed with leather scraps and tools in it. Picked that up as a kid and started mucking around with it. Making things. Then as a teenager I started making leather studded belts and wrist bands for my mates which I’d sell at punk gigs for beer money and I never really stopped. And it became fortunately for me, a profession.

What is it you like about working with leather?

There’s something very organic about it. I’m used to working with it. The heritage of it intrigues me too. It’s something that’s always been around since people have been hunting animals.

Is the hop design a good one to work on?

Yeah, it’s lovely. Iconic. Kind of medieval. Perfect for the material. It has all the good clean lines necessary for this style of tooling and it translates well onto the tank strap. I had to re-draw and crop it to get it to fit that shape but it works well.

Talk us through the process.

The first stage is to get a pattern for the shape you need to fit the tooling into, in this case the tank strap. Once you have the dimensions you work to fit the artwork into that space, then you transfer the design to tracing paper, tweaking where necessary. Next you carve the outline with a swivel knife and once your cutting is complete you move on to textured bevellers to compress the background and bring the design into relief. After this it's using background stamps and a modeling spoon to smooth out any hard lines, then a fine paintbrush to colour the background and put the gold in. Finally a waterproof lacquer is applied.

It looks very meditative.

It is, for sure. Carving leather is very cathartic and can become quite a meditative process where you lose yourself in the work. You get the time to do so.

What’s the leather you’re using?

The leather using here is veg tan which is different to what handbags and shoes are made of – which is chromium tan. I can't tool that as it arrives finished and shiny. I need the raw ingredients stuff to work with.

Are you seeing a renaissance in hand-crafted leather?

Definitely. There seems to be a renaissance for hand-tooled leather and hand-tooled leather goods but the time involved in the process makes it exclusive and expensive. There’s always a market for people who want quality goods and are prepared to pay for it but then there are machines that can press out similar designs by the hundreds and be sold cheaply. But it’s not the same thing, obviously.

Is there something more magic about hand-tooled?

You can spot the difference straight away. There’s an irregularity that’s organic in hand-tooling that you don’t get in machine-pressed things. Even if something’s moulded something that was and tooled and pressed it, the pressing has a repetition that becomes evident very quickly to the trained eye.

You also customise and build your own bikes. How many have you got?

I love motorcycles, and have four myself.

Have you always been interested in motorcycles?

Yeah. Most of my family have been into bikes and riding. Dad used to drop us off at school. Mum rode a bike too. I got into it a bit later but yeah, the two are definitely connected: leather and bikers. Saddlebags and bike seats: everybody wants something out of leather for their bike! These days I’m particularly fond of 1960's styled cafe racers but I’m not much of a snob really. If it's got two wheels and a motor I’ll be interested. I love building and tinkering almost as much as riding; it’s like grown up Meccano where you can add your own twist. It’s good fun trying to wring as much performance as possible out of different machines. The bike I’ll be bringing on the road trip - Budweis or Bust - is my Kawasaki GT550, which kind of looks like a bike from the first Mad Max film. It’s shaft driven, so good for long distance. It’s also probably the only GT550 in the world with rear sets and clip-ons (not at all good for long distance!). So a totally inappropriate cafe racer...

How do you decide what to press and what to leave in relief?

With a design like this it could go either way. Normally there’s a clear delineation, but this could go either way. You could press the background or the front. But with this I think I’ll depress the background and then paint black and gold.

Clearly the art of handcrafting is important to you.

Yeah. Very much. The art of handcrafting anything is important to me. And always has been. My father was a skilled cabinet maker and wood carver; my grandfather was always building boats. So, it’s definitely something that’s been in the family. That respect for tradition and craft goes back a long way.

What did you think when you saw the finished bike?

I thought it was great, a really sweet little machine where all the design elements married each other perfectly. It's been a pleasure to have been even a small part of such a collaboration.

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