by Zeva Bellel
A one-man luxury brand, Guy Chanel works alone out of his atelier on the outskirts of Paris handcrafting a variety of one-of-a-kind designs out of leather, crocodile, ostrich and other fine skins.
From saddles, handbags and wallets to belts, armchairs and even lamps, Chanel makes every creation to measure, building them by hand using artisanal tools and techniques. By keeping production slow and steady, his solo operation turns out discreet, logo-less products of unparalleled quality and detail that will last several lifetimes.
Before launching out on his own in 1989, Chanel—whose name has no connection to the fashion brand—worked for fifteen years as a saddle-maker for Hermès. At the time, the company made everything in the atelier above their flagship shop. (Now they only make saddles there, the rest happens in Pantin.) When saddles orders slowed, Chanel would jump to bags and belts or any other small accessory needing his expert attention.
When he struck out on his own, his range of abilities set him apart from his peers and attracted a diverse grown of fine leather fans—from objet d'art collectors and interior designers to fashion insiders, equestrians and even Michelin-starred chefs.
Unlike most artisans, Chanel caught the craftsman bug not through his family, but via a childhood passion for horses. "I started riding when I was seven and rode competitively until I was twenty-five," says Chanel. "Professionally, I wanted to do something linked to horses. I couldn't be a jockey, because I was too tall. Veterinary, no, because I wasn't good enough in school, so, I wound up making saddles."
While saddles comprise only a quarter of his output today, they remain the heart and soul of his business and earn him international recognition. Riders from across the world—as well as aficionados who collect them as sculptures—swear by Chanel saddles for their show-topping blend of comfort, beauty and performance.
When you can build a saddle from scratch, a watchband may seem like childâs play, but Chanel pours equal attention into every one of his designs. It takes the same amount of time for him to make a bag as a saddle (forty hours) while wallets, belts and cardholders take a tenth of that.
"My clients have pretty classical tastes, so they're more likely to play with color and materials than the design of their object," says Chanel, who in addition to made-to-measure commissions, also personalizes, refurbishes and repairs well-loved accessories.
Prices vary depending on complexity of design and materials, with handbags ranging from €1,500-50,000, saddles from €2800-25,000, wallets, card holders, changer purses and belts from €200-3000. To purchase an item, contact Chanel through his site.
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