Tucked upstairs in the large Santa Cruz workspace where metal sculptor Rigel Hunter has run Hunter Designs for the last six years, is the workshop where he and business partner, Rachel Conable, are pressing, stitching, and otherwise constructing leather handbags and wallets for the launch of their label, Rrevv. In name and mission, Rrevv, like the products debuting this spring, evokes a dual harmony: two local artisans whose first names begin with “R,” a shared desire to fill a hole in the handbag market, and their fresh combination of metal hardware and leather. While the design duo will put out lines for men and women, the resulting “industrial chic” look begs a certain symmetry as well. What you get, much like the momentum and power evoked from, say, revving an engine, is a strong, hand-crafted line made right here in California.
On a recent and rainy visit to the studio, I walked into a 3,000-square-foot atmosphere where protectively masked fabricators were sculpting a custom stainless steel gate for one of Hunter’s clients, many of whom have been based in Atherton, Woodside, and San Francisco as well as in the studio’s backyard for public art projects for Santa Cruz County.
Meanwhile, coming from an artistic background that includes everything from fine art to consumer product design, Conable has made her mark with bespoke chandeliers that often involve metal work as well and what she describes as “inspiring technical issues with moving parts.” She studied industrial design at San Jose State and has worked with various media, including painting and now leatherwork. “I love solving design problems,” she says, “and working with some sort of a complicated process.” Leather certainly fits that bill. “With most other craft, you can fix a mistake. In leather you can’t. So there’s a very technical side to it. We’ve both been hooked by learning how to do all the different steps that these pieces need.” That has included solving construction challenges with different shapes and closures as well as considering the customer’s use and how the bag works out in the world.
Both artists are also local to Santa Cruz, making Rrevv all the more meaningful to execute here in their 400-square-foot lofted workspace, where the setting is a stimulating blend of sounds and smells. Rolls of leather are stacked on a large square worktable. There’s an aroma of machine and material as one goes to work on the other. This writer was encouraged to try her hand as well, pulling a scrap of dark blue leather through a skiver in order to thin it, cutting out shapes with a clicker press, and stamping a serial number with an arbor press (each piece receives a unique number). Even the leather cutting dies are made on site. “Rigel’s interest in and ability to find and modify tools and machines is a big asset to our business,” Conable says of Hunter, who is also a contractor. “That’s true of things he’s either built completely or rebuilt down in the shop, and that’s true up here in the loft,” she says, “be it an enormous power hammer or a sewing machine.”
As I can now attest, there’s certainly a thrill to transforming one version of something into another, let alone into the finished product like the wallet Hunter hands me, which—like all Rrevv makes—is stamped with their logo, a tag with an outline of the state of California, as well as that serial number. A wallet also sparked Rrevv’s original inspiration when Hunter realized it was time to get a new one a couple of years ago. He wanted something “interesting and different that you don’t see other places,” he explains. He and Conable sat down and sketched out some ideas for a minimalist final product. “I thought it would be cool if you could stitch leather together with metal,” Hunter continues, “like metal wire. Then I remembered rebuilding this old drill press that had flat belt drives, and the belts were held together by a metal connection. That connection looked like stitching.”
Once they applied that metal hinge to the leather, both artists were indeed hooked. Soon they filed a provisional patent. Hunter made the first original handbag (for Conable), and one by one they produced a full line of 10 pieces, some of which look fit for an overnight while others are perfect for grabbing your iPad and heading to a meeting. Conable and Hunter are also eager to see what people want. “We want our handbags to be versatile,” Conable says of working, for the first time, on pieces that people carry, perhaps more than any other belonging. “It can be a special occasion item, or something you carry every day that holds all of your most precious things,” Conable says of the handbag. “It’s a conversation piece.”
In their own conversation, one so centered on a “common design language,” they call it, it’s compelling that of all the artistic endeavors they have pursued independently, Rrevv is what they’ve chosen to work on together. “We’ve tried so many things and this is what has caught and held our interest,” Conable says with a calm sense of surprise, as she and Rigel approach their accessories line as artists and designers (and recently, too, as a couple), rather than from the world of fashion. “We’re approaching this from our mutual love of art and design, crafting personal art pieces that you can carry with you, and we’ll never get tired of that,” she says, ready for that next inspiring problem to solve.
Look for Rrevv online at www.rrevv.com and also in select local stores. You may also follow them on Instagram @rrevvleather.