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For The Love of Materials

Denim and leather only improve with age, a quality new Amsterdam accessory brand, Atelier de l'Armée, is exploiting beautifully.  The brand penetrates the zeitgeist, which has rebranded hand-made and locally produced into valuable characteristics.  And it’s all being done for the love of materials.

By Gabrielle Kennedy / 28-03-2013

Two years ago Elza Wandler and Joost Doeswijk conceived of an idea for a brand that encapsulates their love for old materials.  Their timing was genius.  The “Heritage Feel” trend was exploding in Europe and hipsters were embracing canvas and denim as the material of choice.  The brand, dubbed Atelier de l'Armée, which specializes in bags and related products, is almost one year old and is about to hit the shelves of Bloomingdales.

“I have always loved work-wear from the 20s,” says Doeswijk.  “Durable and functional clothing that was designed for work and war.  It is certainly a hype right now.  Men with beards, Red Wing shoes, barber jackets and jeans rolled up to expose the selvedge denim.”

Japan has been tapping into the look for much longer.  “In magazines like Free & Easy and Lightning these materials have been at the forefront of fashion for quite a while,” says Doeswijk.  “I think that is where the look, which has taken off in Europe really started forming.”

Doeswijk and Wandler, who both have big-brand denim backgrounds, started sourcing for Atelier de l'Armée small – Marktplaats (a sort of Dutch eBay), dump stores and eBay.  But they also both knew the industry and were aesthetically and politically living the brand.  It did not take long to access suppliers ensuring that 100% of their products continue to be made from damaged or dead stock material.  

Doeswijk’s own former employer has a big basket with his name on it and any leftovers – particularly selvedge denim - are dumped in it for him.

Not that the business model leads to a reduced budget for materials.  “Perhaps it is a bit smaller than doing things the traditional way,” says Doeswijk, “but we are very particular and that every bag is made by hand means it is impossible to compete with the mass-market that can outsource production to Portugal or the Far East.”

Doeswijk and Wandler are constantly sourcing old canvas bags, denim, leather belts, straps or handles.  They obtain dead-stock zippers from the Swiss brand Riri and old leather rifle slings from the Swiss and French armies

“Everything has been dragged and stained and stamped,” Doeswijk says. “We find that very beautiful.  You could never imitate the damage and repair that gives each one of our objects a unique story.”

Atelier de l'Armée is based in the World Fashion Center in Amsterdam.  Every bag is one of a kind and takes between six and eight hours to create.  “We are not trying to be environmental, but we just are,” Doeswijk says.  “So much stuff is being made and we feel so much can be created from what already exists.”

In Amsterdam Atelier de l'Armée bags are available in hipster hang-out Harvest & Co, which until the end of this weekend is also exhibiting a fascinating collection of Indigo objects that touch on the history of denim with a lot of objects sourced from Japan.

Atelier de l'Armée can also be found here.

Indigo Roosters (a collection of textiles by Miles Johnson and Victor Sandberg) opens till this coming Sunday 31st at Harvest & Co.

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