This is the first in a series of posts on our recent trip to southern Africa and the journeys our bags took with us. We started in the coastal city of Cape Town, South Africa and made our way north to the deserts of Namibia and the preserved plains of Botswana, concluding in Livingstone, Zambia with a quick jaunt across the border to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. Along the way we snapped the stunning natural beauty of the African continent and used some of our favorite Lotuff Leather pieces. They’re the bags we carried each step of the way – an affirmation that what leaves our New England shop stays with you all the time, becoming a part of your travels.
The Cape of Good Hope juts southerly out of the African continent, marking the point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans greet each other and where, for centuries, tradesmen, sailors, explorers and travelers have congregated.
Peering over it is the city of Cape Town, one of Africa’s bustling and diverse metropolises. The riches that its natural resources and globally strategic location have delivered are noticeable in an accrued elegance evident around the city. Yet the pockmarks of a difficult past are still evident, providing a unique juxtaposition of a complex city of roughly 800,000 people.
We checked into the Ellerman House, a luxury complex nestled in between the heart of downtown Cape Town and the vast Table Mountain Natural Reserve. Like Nairobi and Rio De Janeiro, Cape Town is a city that pulls off a urban living with large swathes of preserved nature, all within its city limits.
Like so many have done so before, we used Cape Town as a point-de-entre into the rest of the African continent. After checking out of Ellerman, we flew north to the deserts of Namibia, where hot air ballon rides and sunset picnics awaited.
“I am so delighted to do this. It has been so long since I have been able to do this,” says Luis as he smooths out the leather front of a piece he just finished.
The whole Lotuff team is crowded together, peering over the pattern maker’s shoulders to watch him wipe the bag down and put it on the desk for its first official viewing. It is a thing of beauty, a fully leather-lined single-gusseted satchel. It stands up tall and proud because Luis has intentionally made it to do just that. A few hours earlier, he was polishing its edges, a delicate process that can go ruinously wrong with one slip of the hand.
Bag #199. Osterville, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
This English briefcase takes a rest during its owner Linhbergh’s trip to Phoenix, Arizona.
See this picture and others at his blog here
When George Vlagos was a teenager growing up in suburban Chicago, his father John summoned him to be his apprentice during weekends and times off from school. John, a cobbler who immigrated from Greece at 18, made his son toil with his hands to clean, polish, and service shoe after shoe after shoe.
It was an experience meant to sear into George the strenuousness of working with one’s hands and the importance of pursuing an education so he could one day find a different type of work outside of the family business.
Joe Lotuff assembling the train set he inherited from his grandfather.
William F. Buckley Jr. is quoted as saying “industry is the enemy of melancholy.” I’m reminded of this thought every time I think of my grandfather and the set of scale model locomotives he passed down to me.
It was sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s when my grandmother was involved in a serious car accident that planted her in bed for about a year. My grandfather took care of her and didn’t leave the house much until she was better.
During this time, he developed a scale model railroad. He would go every week to Henry’s Hobby House in Worcester to pick up a new locomotive and whatever else he would need to lay down his tracks. He didn’t have a particularly large house, but the basement was a one room equivalent of the whole house. He had the model railroad going through that basement – turntables, trestles, scenery and all. That’s one of the ways he occupied his time while my grandmother was sick.
He did it for therapy. It was the industry he applied to help him get through that time. I look at the details and I look at the craft. I see how he built and then hand painted each one, managing to match each model to its true life counterpart. After he built each locomotive, he welded more tracks and then wired electricity throughout.
Continue reading after pictures:
A look into the workshop last week.
A Lotuff English Briefcase about to ship out of the workshop.
Final patterns being hand drafted for a new bag, then the pattern is sent off make dies.
Lotuff Leather Made in the USA. Lotuff logo being stamped and inspected to ensure that it is square.
Joe working with Lindy to finalize a few new shapes.
A new women's silhouette in the making.
Joe Lotuff inspecting the leather.
The workshop at the closing for the evening. See you tomorrow
photography by: Tre Cassetta