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Lotuff Love: Bags to Last a Lifetime

When it comes to Lotuff, here’s what you need to know: You can’t go wrong.

Founded by brothers Joe and Rick Lotuff, and built upon generations of American manufacturing (their father and grandfather paved the way before them, making women’s sportswear and accessories), Lotuff’s fine leather goods are supremely crafted in a family-run workshop on the Connecticut coast.

Classic totes, duffles, briefcases and pouches are distinct for their distilled simplicity—no bells and whistles here—which lets the function and beautiful quality of the materials take center stage. The timeless styling and integrity behind the products (Lotuff guarantees the bag against any defects for as long as you own it!) means that an investment in one of their bags is an investment that will last you a lifetime.

And talk about a match made in heaven: For Spring 2014, Lotuff paired up with roving photographer duo Miles & Miles to shoot their lookbook in Marfa, Texas. Read on for a Q & A with Lotuff co-founder Joe Lotuff and creative director Lindy McDonough and a peak at the exclusive images.

Tell us why manufacturing in America is so important to you.

Joe Lotuff: Manufacturing here is incredibly important and personal to me. Learning a craft, from leatherwork to boatbuilding to plumbing, is a path to a satisfying and fulfilling life. We really delight in teaching others how to thrive by empowering them to do the best they can by taking the time needed for perfection.

As we grow, our team of craftspeople has evolved into a really interesting blend. Those with decades of experiencing mastering the craft now work shoulder to shoulder with younger folks eager to learn the skills and work with their hands. It gives us hope that handcrafted goods is not a dying industry. In fact, it is worthwhile and sustainable enough to continue on for years.

Tell us about the challenges and rewards of employing and training highly skilled workers to make your products.

JL: The challenge turns into a reward as we realize the benefits that come from employing highly skilled craftspeople. We’re proud of every piece we make because we know it has been made the very best way it can be. There is also a rare intimacy that comes when we work closely with our team. We see every step up close and in person—from the cutting to the sewing to the polishing to the finishing. We know and approve each piece that leaves the workshop. Our ability to individually number each piece we make is a testament to our small-run, highly personal crafting process. And any Lotuff bag that you get from Barneys has a guarantee against material and workmanship defect for the life of the original owner.

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Where do you source your leathers and your hardware?

JL: The overarching requirement when we source any material is that it literally has to be the best of its kind. So we don’t just source, we seek. Our leather is the finest full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather out there, and most of if comes from small ranches in South America. Looking, feeling, and smelling the leather in person are exercises that really show off its excellence. And as it ages, it develops a wonderful unique patina, so each piece matures uniquely and handsomely.

We only use hardware when absolutely necessary, and when we do use it, we use only solid brass. We source worldwide—New England, Japan, the United Kingdom, Switzerland—and only use as long as the quality is supreme.

What have been your inspirations and influences in selecting Lotuff’s classic color palette?

Lindy McDonough: Our palette contains colors that are timeless and won’t go out of style or favor. They are just as relevant now as they were 50 years ago and as they will be 50 from now. Each color tells a bit of a different story, too. For example, the chestnut hints at a bit of a rugged nature while still being incredibly handsome and sophisticated. The chocolate is dark and sleek.

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You offer the same timeless silhouettes season after season, but also develop new styles as well. Tell us about the process for adding styles to the collection and what you most consider when developing new ideas.

LM: The philosophy behind expanding our collection is that each new piece must serve a purpose that embraces longevity, functionality, simplicity, and beauty. As we add to our collection, we look to fill in voids—answering the question “I wish I had a bag for when I…” We also make sure each new piece fits in with our core tenets of minimalistic design, engineered functionality, and superior craftsmanship so that we know it will stand the test of time.

For example, our new Zip Tote is a vertical bag that can discreetly store a laptop and files without all your goods getting lost or jumbled inside. The north-to-south design allows for a unique interior organization that is perfect for the urban commuter, and something that he had been seeking out from us. Now we have it.

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How does being a New England brand influence your designs?

LM: New England, at its best, is a land that embraces what it needs and turns that necessity into something quiet, beautiful, and long lasting. That is something that we try to achieve with our designs. For example, the handle found on our English Briefcase is crafted out of six layers of leather wrapped fully around and around. It’s beautiful, comfortable, well made and born out of necessity, which is very much the ethos of New England.

What are some of your favorite New England vacation spots, and what bag would you bring along?

JL: I grew up sailing on Cape Cod. I met my wife there, and I now summer there with my family, doing the things with them that I did growing up. Our tote is great for tools, snacks and wine on a sunset boat ride. In the winter, skiing in Vermont is a given. We go to Sugarbush and the Mad River Valley. The first family ski trip I remember was at the Sugarbush Inn. In the fall, my wife and I pack the Duffel Travel Bag and hop in the convertible to visit our older boys at school in western Massachusetts. After the visit, we like to travel through the winding roads of the Berkshires to Williamstown and then down to Great Barrington, stopping for a night at our favorite bed and breakfast.

LM: My favorite spot is a tiny coastal town in southern Rhode Island by the name of Little Compton. It is untouched and undeveloped. The town common has a general store, an historic cemetery, and a white-steeple church. The beaches are always empty, the waves seismic, and the drive down takes you through areas at which open farmland and field meet the ocean. Because it is so close to my home in Providence, I throw all my beach gear into our Tall Tote and am set for the day.

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How did you decide to partner with Miles & Miles in shooting your lookbook?

LM: Sarah and Stefaan of Miles & Miles are good friends of ours and have been early supporters of Lotuff. They have such an indelible lust for adventure and the eye to wonderfully capture where that adventure takes them. The way they travel is beautiful but it’s not overly glamorous, fussy, or fancy. It actually reminds us of the spirit behind our bags, especially our travel pieces, so it is perfect for them to shoot our bags out in the wild.

What story did you want to tell in the lookbook and what were you most inspired by in planning the shoot?

LM: We were collectively inspired by the stark, rugged, dusty, and largely untouched landscape of West Texas, and Marfa itself just made perfect sense. It’s a symbol of minimalism both in landscape and art that parallels the core philosophies of our bags, and it is an ideal backdrop to let our bags shine.

We wanted to show how each piece could really master that tough, unforgiving, and beautiful environment. They’re really not precious pieces—they are definitely supposed to be taken for a ride. Sarah and Stefaan really beat the bags to a pulp throughout their trip, and they came out looking as good as ever.

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