It is always hard to explain to people what I do over here in my little tiny company. I often get emails from people wondering why my jackets and other items are so expensive or why it takes so long to make a single jacket. I guess part of my job is trying to de-mystify what I do. A lot of people might see that as a crazy thing to do but I want anybody who is interested to see the day to day workings of HBL. Firstly I do almost everything. I run a very tiny shop! I have one other sewer and one cutter. We make each jacket one by one by one. Cutting each carefully matched piece of leather from the skin and assembling every single jacket a piece at a time. I post about this all the time. Well I just got a new shipment of leather in. I search out vegetable tanned top grain shrunk hides from the best tanners on the planet. This shit’s expensive. My hides are running as high as ten dollars a sq. foot. What this means is my leather is like fine wine. It is aged, cured and treated with incredible respect from the most beautiful sourced animals on the planet. This load is from the most respected cordovan tannery in Japan. As far as I know only 3 other jacket makers use this tannery, John Chapman of Goodwear Leather, Tsujimoto of Real McCoys and The Flathead. Perhaps there are others but most importantly for me is that I use the best of the best leathers on the planet and I know my friends in the jacket business feel the same way. This load is for my new secret super special project debuting in the U.S.A. soon. I have also acquired some very interesting liners. These jackets will be super limited edition HBL specials!!!
Day two of Inspiration arrived far too early in the morning. Nancy and I moved hotels to the historic Dolly Vardan in Long Beach in order to save the long drive from downtown L.A. We got to the show unpacked our gearÂ and prepared to meet and greet. I was really impressed with all the vendors and dealers at the show. I chatted up Bob Chatt and Owen about their recent reality t.v. show Combat Cash, and revisited all the best store owners in L.A. Day Two was the day that designers cruised in to visit before heading out to the Rose Bowl to buy vintage design pieces on Sunday and then rush off to Las Vegas to represent their brands at Project clothing show. Everyone in high end menswear dropped in to offer support. Tsujimoto of Real McCoys, John Chapman of Goodwear Leather and I managed to get a picture together. We all share the same ethics and philosophies of how we make real pure and true to the 1930s leather jackets. We also all buy our leather from the same supplier in Japan. I was very honoured that these two jacket makers let me join their ranks as an equal!Â Kento, who is the next generation of Real McCoys and famous baseballer, tried on my newest model the Canauck 1910 leather railroad jacket! Innis and Sophie came by the booth and when Nancy, Naoko and Sophie started trying on my girls leather jackets the whole room stopped to watch. It was really quite amazing. Right at that time Paul D’Orleans of the most famous motorcycle blog The Vintagent, dropped in to say hello. We have shared links for years without actually meeting each other. However, like everyone else we all waited slack jawed and mezmorized untilÂ the ladies ended their fashion show!!! Blair of General Quarters Store L.A. tried on a Heron. He makes every jacket look good! The most important two goals for my day were to meet Matt from Imogene and Willie and Kiya from Self Edge.
The show began to lull, by 2 in the afternoon everybody was exhausted and dreading the pack out because of the stairs and the single freight elevator. Finally Matt came by. He was one of my first customers and a real supporter of my jackets. What a true Nashvillian gentleman. I was blown away. Finally, at the 11th hour Kiya came by. This was a big moment for me. We shook hands and talked and then pow…just like that Kiya told me he wants to carry my jackets in all three stores. Finally I will be back in Los Angeles. Not just L.A., San Fran, NYC and Nashville and Portland! So HBL will be releasing limited edition jackets in all Self Edges locations pretty soon! Phew my trip was worth the 3000 mile exhaustion run. So now it was pack up and load up Eric’s van for the Rose Bowl flea market the next day and get to the Ralph Lauren RRL party. Well we got packed up and I had to shower up and de-swell my feet at the hotel. RRL was incredible. Jeff Decker was releasing his limited edition custom RLL belt buckles. As we were heading to Project on Sunday with Jeff’s rare motorcycle cuts and likely showing his rare Crocker motorcycle in our booth I really wanted to show my support at the RRL party. Well it was fantastic. Everybody in fashion was there! Nevermind that, RRL hired In and Out Burger to make burgers for everybody!!!
Nancy and I got up late the next day unlike Caleb and Eric who had to be at the Bowl at 5 am. We were parting ways as I was hitting the Rose Bowl flea market which is the biggest most important junk sale on the planet for fashion designers and Nancy had to head back to Toronto for her other job. Well it was an amazing day. The best part was meeting Robert outside in the parking lot to discuss our not so secret boot project that will hopefully be coming to Himel Brothers Online store pretty soon!
Curing horse butts and fronts
The journey of Himel Brothers Leather has been about learning to make the most amazing accurate jackets possible. I have travelled the world looking for the best zippers, leather and parts that exist. I spent years hunting the internet and carefully examining all the amazing Japanese and North American brands looking at the plus’ and the minus of each one. I counted stitches, disassembled jackets and contacted every living person I could track down that had worked in the leather jacket industry. I was very very surprised to find that many of the people who had worked for many of the great brands were still alive and well and that many of them were still working in the schmata business. In my hunt for the perfect leather I spoke with many people who had built some of the earliest leather jackets in North America. I asked them where they got their leather from, which tanneries, and what kinds of leather. Many of them regailed me with great stories and some of them even gave me specificationsÂ right down to formulations for the tannages of the leather. I spoke with the head tanner of Dominion Tanners now retired in Edmonton. Wolfgang was the head chemist for one of the biggest tanneries in the world. Each one was a small step or a clue to unlock the puzzle of leather. After reading several books published before 1900 on the art of tanning my email rang with a friendly hello from a stranger. John Chapman of Goodwear Leather emailed me out of the blue and introduced himself. Hundreds of hours on the phone later John and I became good friends. Without people helping me I would have never found my way to Japan.
Nancy and I marvelled at our journey to the tanneries of Southern Japan. Onto a bullet train we watched in awe as city after city flew past. Names we had only seen on the news were right there flying by at hundreds of kilometres an hour and when we arrived at our destination. The openess and generosity of Japanese culture astounded us. The owner of the tannery picked us up at the train station with an took us on a tour of his town. He was as proud of his city as he was of his business!
Horsehide tanning is an age old business as horses produce the finest shoe and garment leather in the world. Horsehide is renowned for its strength and weight, waterproofness and wearability. There are very few cordovan tanneries left in the world and Japan has some of the finest. These horse skins are the pride of Europe, imported to Japan specifically for the tannery. The tanneries of Japan select the finest best grown and treated horses of Europe where stringent regulations and animal treatment produce well cared for animals. At the end of the lives they are slaughtered for the food industry and the hides are exported. When they come in the “green” horsehides are in the salted and preserved stage. To make cordovan you must first use a cool notched bench to cut the bean shaped butt off from the fronts of the hide. The butt has the best properties for shoes and the fronts are used for garments. The hides are washed, dehaired and cleaned of fat. After that cleansing, each hide goes for a long long bath…months long with agitators soaking in a liquor of bark and water imported from Australia. This mimosa tannage produces an incredible product After soaking in the bath skins are carefully sorted, dried and stored for months allowing them to cure and shrink. This curing is part of what makes a superior hide. This shrinks the fibres and compresses the skin. Of course losing 30 percent of that skin by shrinkage is partly what makes the leather a premium product…that and it takes months to make a single hide. After hides are tanned, stored and shrunk, they are finished. Finishing involves milling, or tumbling the hides to soften them up, bring out the grain, dying, bating (adding oil or other solutions back into the skin) skiving and sanding, and finally putting finish on the leather. I buy the best leathers in the world from the last few tanneries that have been open and family run since the war. This father and son operation is run with the same care and commitment that goes into the production of every Himel Brothers Leather jacket. Their clients include Goodwear Leathers, The Flathead, Real McCoys, Toys McCoys and Me!
Horsehides curing for 1 year
Horsehide pits for pit tanning in agitation tanks
Horse Butts and Cordovan drying
Liming, Pickling, dehairing and dying drums