Billykirk - Design Bureau

Billykirk

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

Rolling pastures and whitewashed barns of Amish country welcome visitors to Billykirk’s website, quietly boasting the location where nearly all of the company’s leather goods are produced. Though it seems a strange place to source production, “We never question the pricing or work ethic of the Amish,” founders (and brothers) Chris and Kirk Bray say, “and their handiwork is unmatched.” It may also have something to do with the brothers’ design sensibility—simple, handcrafted pieces that blend into their surroundings rather than upsetting them. But whatever the classic American accessories lack in shock value, they more than make up for in deliberate subtlety and impeccable construction.

Since their adolescence in Tennessee, the laid-back design duo knew they would collaborate on a creative endeavor. In 1996, inspiration came in the form of a wide vintage leather watch strap they stumbled upon at a pawnshop in Los Angeles. They went to task buying leather and learning the trade, pioneering what they call the “Third Wave” of the wide watch straps (WWII and bohemian hippie wrist wear being the first two). Soon the line expanded into belts, satchels and wallets, each piece a representation of the fine hide they work with. Why leather rather than housewares or clothing? “Your personality blends with leather and gets better with age. It literally becomes part of you, growing on your arm or waist.”

Given the quality of their work, Chris and Kirk were weary of the rampant designer collaborations and diffusion lines, but have selectively done collections for J. Crew and Opening Ceremony. Their latest venture, which admittedly took a lot of “soul-searching” on their part, is Brothers Bray & Co., a line created for Urban Outfitters. Although the line was designed with a younger audience in mind and has a lower price point than their original brand, fans of the Billykirk products can still expect to find the exceptionally functional, military-inspired pieces for which the Brays have become known.

KIRK’S INSPIRATION LIST

1. Music – currently The Soft Pack, Broken Bells and always Bonnie Prince Billy.
2. Subtle texture in leather and fabric is big for me. Think tonal herringbones and dark rich leathers with a bit of unexpected color
3. Army surplus stores
4. Camping equipment from the 1970s and 1980s.
5. Bike rides along the Hudson with my Freeman Transport ‘Gravel Racer’
6. Getting out of the city to explore small towns
7. Flea markets
8. Old bicycle gear
9. Vintage hunting equipment
10. Vintage photography like the Kodachrome Americana pics featured on our friend Michael Williams’ blog, A Continuous Lean.

Isaiah Freeman-Schub is a freelance writer, frequent contributor to Modern Luxury Magazines and stylist currently residing in Chicago.

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