Throughout history there are extraordinary moments that change life as we know it and define men. The artifacts that survive those moments are to remind us of the importance and act in a way as a time machine for us to return to them. This is exactly the story Stephen Kenn is sharing and along the way building a legacy... Designs heavily influenced by the mid century era along with the use of vintage military fabrics makes his collections truly one of a kind. I had the pleasure of meeting Stephen through a good friend Jeremiah Newton (The Bearded Bastard) at his shop in Downtown Los Angeles where I was able to see some of the current projects he had going as well as where the ideas came to life. Seeing these pieces in their simplest form is incredible to witness because us, being on the outside, we just see final products but that is just one step of many. This also is one of the amazing things about Stephen's designs in which he feels and understands the importance of showing the process of how his art is created as well as how he relates the furniture building process to the construction of the human body with the frame, belts, and cushions becoming the bones, muscle and skin of each piece. Here is a look inside his craft.
1.) Was there an initial moment that led up to you knowing that this was what you wanted to do?
There wasn't a moment that revealed all that would happen or a vision that I would be designing furniture. There was, however, a series of tiny moments that felt like dares. They come in the form of ideas when I go about my day. When I act upon them I see this as being obedient and in the process of working and are to see those little ideas come to life, they lead me along a path that, in my case, looks like designing. No matter what you are curious about, I believe the formula is the same. Risk is essential to growth and growth informs us of our next challenge and so on. I'm enjoying the journey of contributing to our world through design.
2.) All of your pieces have a story behind them. Once you have completed a collection do you find it difficult to part with them?
In the beginning it was much harder, mostly because I was actually seeing everything I made. I would invest hours of my own blood, sweat and tears into a design, and then the sale fell so short in comparison. Once I began working with contractors that emotional experience with every single product slowly went away and I think this was very helpful for me to move into being a designer as opposed to a maker. I still love to make things myself, but I don't do production runs all by myself. My making is more on the experimental side, part of the initial design process.
3.) You did a collaboration with Simon Miller and your more recent with Truck furniture that are incredible. Do you see yourself doing more collaborations in the future?
Absolutely! Working with others is not about marketing for me, it is purely to learn and share experiences with others. I have so many takeaways from these collaborations, as well as new friendships. Collaborations are essential for me.
4.) Myself being from a military family and growing up around the stories as well as the old hand me downs from those who served, I quickly was drawn to the inheritance and Encounter Collections. What was it that drove you to create using fabrics along with what influenced you from the WWII era?
When I first experienced vintage military clothing and objects, I was drawn to the color consistency and the functional design. When I wandered into the warehouse in east LA years ago now I can still remember my jaw dropping literally. I couldn't wrap my mind around the massive amount of clothing and bags, boots etc... After the shock and awe wore off it became a very humbling place for me. I would sit for hours on the piles just journaling about how appreciative I was and read the names of soldiers I could see written into bags or tents or jackets aloud. I am not sure that I will ever have the opportunity to design with materials that are so historically significant. It truly is an honor to breath new life into these tired and forgotten tents and evoke an emotional response in the right customer and, hopefully, inspire conversations about the sacrifices that our country made to give our generation the freedom that we have. Redemption is one of the most hopeful and powerful stories that I have had the opportunity to explore with design.
Well... Last but not least you know we enjoy our drinks so be sure to grab your STEPHEN KENN travel cocktail kit!
Interview by Levi Stocke
Product photo credits from StephenKenn.com
NORMAN RUSSELL. A brand with a rich American history that is noticed from the moment you see the attention to detail in every thread. I was introduced to Kortney Hastin (Founder/Owner) by my friend Luke Ditella (Insta/Twitter -@LukeDitella) and just briefly we discussed his product which I was not familiar with at the time. Kortney later on extended an invite to see the Norman Russell Showroom and needless to say I was more than impressed. A True craftsman at his trade...
What have you found to be the one thing that sets you apart in your craft from some of the others trying to accomplish what you have?
I think the main thing I have going for me is the story of the brand. People, especially guys, seem to have a great connection with the story. There's a lot of brands out there that are designing and selling product just to design and sell product. I get that, but I wanted a deeper meaning with my brand. There's a reason behind every design I create. There's a reason for every wash that I develop. There's a reason why I only create 270 pieces of denim per fit/wash. I want my customer to have a connection with the brand. As well as let them know that it is limited product. They are a part of something small and wonderful. That they are a branch off of the Norman Russell tree.
I know we discussed your highest quality denim that you have available right now, but may see a black denim release? If so any rough time frame for us to be looking for it?
I know you like your black denim Levi, hahaha! And YES, I will be releasing a black denim, as well as a grey denim for Fall15. They will be available to the public somewhere around September. Hold tight!
The Willis II (Chambray) handmade button down is the best quality shirt I have ever owned... I wear it on my motorcycle to ride as well as the day to day. What is the history behind this shirt and where did the name originate?
The Willis II is named after my Grandfather George Willis (aka Dub or Dubber) from my Mom's side. Like most of our grandfathers, My Grandfather was a hard working man. He chucked hay, I still have his old hay forks, as well as drove truck. He was also a member of General MacArthur's Honor Guard in the Army. I wanted to design a shirt that represented my grandfather for who he was and how he lived his day to day. I think the Willis II shirt immolates that in every way. From the pen pocket to the single shoulder epaulette. The only thing missing is that it is not made from Hickory Stripe. My grandpa loved his hickory striped overalls haha!
Thanks Kortney! Find more on the story and get your threads at NormanRussell.com...
*Photos from Norman Russell lookbook.
When I turned 30... I mean, 25... A couple of my friends gave me a custom made wallet. So this is 30... Anyway, the wallet came from their friend Wayne Lambert-Thomas Peterson, 29, who owns L.T. Leather Co. in Long Beach CA. I was out that way a few weeks ago and I had a chance to swing by his garage workshop he's made for himself, snap some photos and ask him some questions about himself and his work.
How old were you when you got interested in leather tooling?
I was young when I was first exposed to it, early teens. I grew up in Seattle but my parents shipped me and my sister off to South Dakota to work on our relatives farms every summer. We rode from Seattle to Chamberlin SD in the cab of our family friends sleeper semi truck as he did deliveries. Took three days and say a lot of shit. I was exposed to so much amazing leather work but was too punk for it all at the time. I didn't find out I wanted to do it myself until a few years ago.
What sparked your interest in leather tooling?
It kind of came out of nowhere. I toured 10 months a year for 5 years playing drums everyday. Once that stopped and I fell into a normal life I was lacking a creative outlet. I just wanted a long trucker style wallet one day but wasn't able to swing the cost of it. I went to a local leather store and got a few basic tools and some scrap leather and started trying to make myself the wallet I wanted, that's where it really started, with making that first wallet for myself. Once it was good enough, I showed a few people and had some good friends ask me to make them wallets and belts right out of the gate and haven't stopped since. I'm really grateful for those early friends and all the continued support.
What influences your work?
Leather work is amazing because you can task ten different leather makers with the same project and get ten wildly different results. Everything in my life contributes to what I make. I find huge influence in american traditional tattoos, old comics, Mexican culture, Native American heritage, Vietnam War trench art, punk and hardcore music, it's kind of all over the place. I'm stoked because I make what I feel, and what I want to make and what I think is rad. Sometimes it doesn't sell but when it does, it feels great because someone found value in something I made with my own hands from a sincere place of my own mind and that's incredible to me.
How many hours a week on average do you spend on your craft?
It goes up in down, both with custom orders fluctuating as well as creative energy coming and going. Some days I'll get up and ready and get to the garage and sit there and stare at my desk for two or three hours, sometimes linger, drained of inspiration and motivation and it will take me a few hours, sometimes days to get back in the groove. I have found that when I try and squeeze out a piece in that down time, it generally blows and I wind up giving it away after scratching my logo off haha! I try not to do that anymore. All in all though, I spend a lot of god damn time in my garage.
How would you say your hobbies (motorcycles, music, etc) effect and influence your work?
I love to ride motorcycles and my favorite part is taking off everything I can, and changing everything that's left. It's another creative outlet, it's adult Legos and it's fucking awesome! Outlaw bikers of the 60s and 70s have a huge influence on my wallets and belts. They were bad dudes who looked the part. It was sincere back then. They all chopped their bikes and each one was unique. I try and maintain that vibe with my work by making each piece one of a kind, unique, and as rad as I can. There's something I always found real important, even as a kid, to mark everything and tweek everything I had just a bit, so everyone knew it wasn't their's, that It was mine.
Growing up in Seattle and now living in Long Beach, which do you prefer more, and which is more beneficial for your work?
Growing up in Seattle I was trapped by the rain. Always having to skate in parking garages and hang under bridges and shit like that. So living here now, I am taking full advantage of the weather. I don't skate as much anymore but the fact I get to ride my motorcycle every single day is an absolute gift and am so stoked to rip around all the time. The Northwest is so unbelievably beautiful though and the summers are second to none. Realistically I see myself moving back one day, but for now I'll stick with the sun.
Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully still making wallets and leather goods! I also having a growing interest in welding and fabrication so you may see me taking some vocational courses at the local community college too!
In your opinion what has been the raddest shit you have made so far?
I'm just finishing up a completely hand tooled king and queen seat for bike which is turning out rad as hell. It's all natural veg tanned leather and has a natural kangaroo leather braided edge. It's not fully finished yet so don't worry there's still time for me to totally blow it. Other then that, I made the women's clutch and totally freehanded the entire template and all the inside pockets. It's probably the best thing I've made so far that's finished.
What’s the toughest project you have worked on?
This fucking seat.
If you could make anything for anyone, what would it be and for who?
I'd love to make a cross-harness horizontal dual pistol shoulder holster for Liam Neeson. Huge Taken fan.