In 2011, after decades of working as a furniture designer at several Swiss and US firms—including a three-year stint as creative director of Vitra Home North America—Alfred Stadler launched his own brand of products, featuring bags, bowls, slippers and other objects handcrafted using traditional European techniques. This Fall he added a new set of items to the line—bags, belts and wallets made from his favorite materials including vegetable tanned leather, wool felt and stone-washed cotton.
According to Stadler, the collection's modern, Bauhaus-inspired designs are meant to accommodate the busy lifestyles of urban creatives, to help them tote their laptops or tablets from afternoon business meetings to evening art openings in style. Stadler himself designed the felt he used for the collection, selecting a combination of fine, curly and short, dense fibers to achieve just the right balance of durability and softness for bags. The limited-edition felt currently comes in two autumn-themed colors, slate and bark.
"You have to see it, you have to feel it, you have to have the heart for it."
Materials are very important to the designer, who first learned to work with leather and felt in his early 20s while serving a two-year apprenticeship with a custom saddle maker in his native Switzerland. He fell in love with the materials' long history as well as their malleability and the way they respond when pushed and pulled by skilled hands. "These materials are soft materials, and you need a lot of feeling to work with them," says Stadler. "You have to see it, you have to feel it, you have to have the heart for it."
During the internship, Stadler also became practiced in the traditional saddlemaking methods, including the notoriously difficult two-needle saddle stitch, which is used by French fashion house Hermès and a small handful of other traditional leather houses. Stadler deploys that rare stitch to construct all the leather pieces in his collection, using traditional tools he collected throughout his career in Europe, some of which are over 100 years old.
With the technical expertise he gained working on saddles, Stadler was able to secure his earliest design jobs as a leather and felt specialist. He designed furniture at the high-end Swiss companies DeSede and Swiss Seats before moving to the US in the 1990s to work for textile designer Jack Lenor Larson, where he shifted between designing custom carpet lines and various management responsibilities. Later, he departed his director stint at Vitra Home North America in 2010 to start his own line.
Stadler's operation is small, with just a few people working in his Brooklyn studio. "Honestly, it's a very specific product, and you cannot just hire people," Stadler says. "You've got to train them." Stadler is sharing his expertise as well—after receiving requests from young local designers, he started a nine-month apprenticeship program that not only teaches traditional crafting techniques but also shepherds participants through the design process, from idea to production. "It's always interesting to learn that these young people see these products in a different way," he says. "But many of them never learned how to make their dream into an actual product they can sell in a store." Stadler hopes to expand on the program in the future, a task that involves purchasing a few more sets of traditional tools.
Stadler's pieces can be purchased online or at several retail locations listed on his website.