Project 51, one of the most recent additions to Dublin’s shopping haven of South William St., combines the traditional designer showroom feel with a relaxed retail environment. There’s a wealth of work from Irish designers for women, but – oddly, and for once, – I think the guys have secured the best deal with designs from (Made For You By) Arms, Caoimhe Keane and Garvan de Bruir collating to produce a shopping experience most definitely worth a Christmas-shopping visit.
It was whilst oogling the buttery leathers of Irish luggage and accessories brand De Bruir, that I knew I had to delve a little deeper. And here – the results…
What is De Bruir?
GdB: De Bruir is my design studio in Kildare town, and the brand name of the collection of
handmade leather luggage and accessories that I produce.
As well as leather luggage, the De Bruir studio is involved in fine furniture-making,
specialising in the use of a variety of materials: decorative timbers, cast metals and fine
MM: You have experience working as a craftsman with wood, metal and leather. What is your
GdB: My formal training includes a BA Hons in Furniture Design & Craftsmanship, and an MA in
Furniture Design & Technology, both earned at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College.
I really enjoyed the design school style of the college as our general training covered
traditional and contemporary upholstery (in fabrics and leathers) and metalwork (casting,
forging, welding etc.) as well as specialising in fine cabinet-tmaking.
As the cabinet workshops were located alongside silversmithing, glass-blowing, plastics and
ceramics workshops, it fostered a great appreciation for all material technologies and the
transferable nature of craft skills as well as a variety of design influences.
Following my BA, my most influential training period was that spent as a cabinet-maker
with Philip Koomen Furniture in Henley, Oxfordshire.
The work-shop was in an old oak-frame barn in idyllic rural woodland outside Henley-on-
Thames. We would do dry our own timber, and machining, handcrafting and
polishing were all done in-house. It was a really high calibre of craftsmanship so there was plenty to learn over a few happy years.
Further research at MA level gave me an opportunity to investigate some materials
technology and more digital manufacturing techniques. I was interested in how my
cabinet-making techniques could be scaled up to create buildings so I spent some time researching structural and timber technology.
Before returning to set up in Ireland my furniture had been featured in a series of exhibitions in
London, had secured a cameo at the Milan Furniture Fair and also appeared in two sponsored exhibitions in Dubai.
MM: How did you come to establish DE BRUIR?
GdB: I returned to Ireland in mid-2007 to establish the studio in Kildare. The initial period was
actually spent building the structures to house my workshop and studio.
Following on from my MA research, the buildings were really experimental – a curving
timber design and went on to win the 2008 IDI Sustainable Design Award.
From early bag designs in off-cuts from my furniture work-shop a collection of accessories and luggage began to grow. The motivation behind the collection was greatly influenced by the economy and general talk of export.
Accessories are much easier to transport than furniture and bags were something that people would buy online. My target market (the online buyer) had just defined themselves as the technology user. So the collection was based around technology covers: laptop bags, tablet and smartphone covers. The same age profile (men aged 25-45) liked or needed to travel so the collection included aircraft carry-on luggage.
The break for the luggage came from listing it on Etsy.com. With that, the brand was introduced to an
international audience, gaining features and profiles on style websites and blogs across the US. In fact, the CEO of Etsy is the proud owner of three DE BRUIR bags!
All of a sudden sales were being generated from the USA, Australia and Canada in particular and so De Bruir was becoming a luggage brand. With the luggage becoming a larger part of the studio’s output, it seemed time to launch it independently to the rest of my furniture collection with a more targeted online shop - Aviation Luggage.
MM: What inspires your designs for De Bruir?
GdB: Every object is essentially a structure and has to be made from a material. The specific way in which you use that material (be it timber, cast metal or leather) is my priority. As well using natural materials I have a further design philosophy of just using fewer materials as a valid proposal for sustainability.
I’ve been trying to approach this by using simpler shapes in my designs. So it seems a valid approach to sustainability while the visual reward is the natural elegance of the curving shapes that are being proposed instead.
These same ideas are true when approaching my leatherwork designs. Instead of making a bag from lots of individual components i.e. stitching together bases, sides and tops, I’ve used a style of construction where large sweeping pieces of leather achieve the main bag shapes. This is true for all my laptop bags and hold-all bag designs but is particularly obvious in my
^ De Bruir hold-all
Here a single piece of leather wraps into a simple vessel shape and in doing so creates a very
elegant curving detail at the front. This satisfying detail is only possible because of the robustness and sheer high-quality of the bridle leather.
MM: As well as your line of leather bags and accessories, you also create bespoke furniture. Can
you tell us a bit about this process?
GdB: My in-house range of furniture designs features very elegant curves in cast aluminium as legs
for my table, chair and stool designs. The cast aluminium combines with solid timbers, leather
or sheepskin to introduce more warmth to a piece.
Other designs are more bespoke; I will design and craft with a client’s tastes and
needs in mind. The process is traditional commissioning process, which might include initial sketches,
models, working drawings and samples before finalising the design, making and finishing the
piece to their exact requirements. From rough boards of walnut/oak/sycamore with details
of ebony/rosewood/bubinga (or leather!) a finished piece of furniture will be realised.
MM: What are your plans for the future of the brand?
GdB: At a creative level, I plan to simply create new and exciting bag designs. I am currently working on a collection of more feminine bags, so hopefully they will be a success.
At a commercial level, I like the online business model but I am slowly introducing the collection to retail, with stores in the US, Japan and Germany trialling the collection. There is a very definite visual and structural style to my bags so I am hoping for the brand to become recognised for this style.