Ortus bespoke leather goods, Tokyo

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Wednesday, October 26th 2016
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Ortus leather goods are run by Naoyuki Komatsu (above) from a small leather workshop in Tokyo, just around the corner from Clematis shoes, where Komatsu was based until he set up his own company in 2012. 

They are entirely hand sewn, often rather original in construction, and are 95% made to order. Impressively, Komatsu also makes a lot of his own hardware.

There is a small amount of ready-made production, which is available at The Armoury in Hong Kong and New York. It is often snapped up pretty quickly - currently there is one portfolio ($2700) and one briefcase ($4500) available.

(Komatsu also only deals with non-Japan customers through the Armoury - which hold trunk shows for him in New York and Hong Kong once a year each.)

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This is obviously very expensive, but still great value compared to the hand-sewn products from the likes of Hermes or Dunhill, and it's all made on site by Komatsu and his team of four.

The briefcase (also known as the music bag), shown above, is one of their best-known pieces - made for a customer here in dark-brown crocodile.

The looped handle over a brass bar (made in-house) functions surprisingly well, and the flowing design fits with the one-piece body of the bag - something Komatsu likes to do wherever possible. 

"It's such a shame to cut up a nice piece of leather into parts," he says. "There's a lot more pleasure in using one piece around the whole outside."

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Another well-known design is the folio (top row, second from the right). This again is one piece, and the small brass clasp is Komatsu's own design. 

These are often made up in a grained or embossed calf because they are don't scratch easily - though Komatsu himself largely prefers plain box calf. 

The full bespoke experience is more expensive and involves a series of meetings, sketches and a prototype in a waste leather - as you would expect. The piece below was made bespoke for a customer, who designed the shape and pocket configuration for his various needs. 

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Komatsu originally started in fashion, working as a designer before starting his apprenticeship. That was at Fugee, where he learnt for one year before working there for a further eight.

After that he set up with Clematis, and they worked together for four years, before Komatsu ventured out on his own.

Today he still teaches, keen to pass on knowledge whenever he can. He teaches in the workshop three nights a week: "People can stay on the course as long as they like - there is no limit. One has been on it for eight years, they have a day job and this is a form of hobby."

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This fine-craft-as-hobby attitude permeates a lot of Japanese culture, and is perhaps one reason so many Japanese shoemakers - for example - set up on their own.

Former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa even took up pottery when he retired, studying under an old master who made him work 13 hours a day and called him a "stupid old man". 

This relationship between culture and craft is something I talked to a lot of Japanese craftsmen about, and will expand upon in a future post. 

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For the moment we'll leave Komatsu-san in his workshop, trying to figure out a new hardware design.

"The best stuff is all from England, but they won't design anything new," he comments. "We have to do all that ourselves."

The prices for pieces when ordered in the Japan workshop are ¥350,000 for the music bag,¥95,000 for a coat wallet (both in calf) and much, much more for the alligator. 

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Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man

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