For C.S. Simko founder Stuart Simko, it all began with a quest for the perfect belt. When the Greenville, South Carolina, pediatrician couldn’t find it, he did the next logical thing—he created one himself.
With an idea of turning quality raw materials into a refined design, he began experimenting with different types of leather and dye. “Hand-dying was one of the best things I could have done, because I learned how the process worked,” he tells The Window. Simko then partnered with England’s only remaining traditional oak bark tannery, whose long-established tanning method takes 12 to 18 months to complete (by comparison, calfskin is typically a 24 to 48-hour process). “Nobody does that anymore because it takes forever,” Simko adds, “but they kept doing it the old-school way.”
A longtime lover of the equestrian aesthetic, Simko sought out master saddlers to learn the classic finishing techniques that get passed down from generation to generation. “It turned into a search for the knowledge of how to make something great. In the leather world, people are really open with sharing their little secrets,” Simko says, “and if there’s a group of people who understand what good leather products are, it’s riders.”
The equestrian market proved to be not only design inspiration, but a captive audience. Riders, attracted to the belts’ fine bridle leather, brass harness buckles from the 1800s, and concealed hand-punched belt holes that complement their tailored style, were among the brand’s first fans. Fashion editors, bloggers and buyers followed suit, as the aesthetic appeal of the sturdy and streamlined accessory reaches far beyond the horse world.
Most remarkable: Simko personally crafts each deliciously soft belt individually over the course of several days in his atelier. Slight variations in color (from rich brown to intriguing navy) or texture are what make the pieces truly customized. “When you pick one up, you notice a difference,” he says. “At Hermès, a craftsman can look at one of their handbags and tell you whether they made it or not just by the way they stitched things. That’s how I feel about the belts I do.”