Today I want to share the story of the two amazing artisans behind Hills & West bags: Marianna and Boris.
I have been so lucky with my journey so far. The connections I have made and the partners I work with have made this dream such a beautiful reality. So I want to tell their story and hopefully share some of the love back.
When I returned from Milan and started on my journey to find a local leather bag crafter, I was immediately referred to Emilio Leather by a friend in the industry. As I continued to do my due diligence and meet other leather goods makers, no one seemed to have the attention to detail, passion or experience that Boris and Marianna had. I decided to make my first range of samples with them and I have never looked back.
When you are looking for a partner it is so important to work with someone who you trust, who has good skills and also a meticulous precision to detail. Both Boris and Marianna are so fully invested with everything they do; they have the patience to trial and test my impossible additional design requests and they are so open to share their knowledge and contacts. They have been wonderful friends throughout the challenging phase of starting a business in an industry that was relatively new to me. With their experience and my vision we have together been able to create a wonderful collection that we can proudly say is Australian and hand made.
As always I wanted to delve deeper into the powerhouse duo story. When I started asking questions about their origins, collaborations and passions, I discovered so many interesting and high profile projects that they were so humble about sharing. Following is the story of a Russian husband and wife duo who have been creating and supporting the Australian fashion industry for over 26 years.
Where it all began…
This story starts with a young Boris who started as a shoemaker under the tutelage of his father. Boris used to assist his father, stitching and creating the top components of shoes, while his father made the soles. Shoe-making in tandem, his father taught him all the traditional techniques he had too learnt from his father and he, his father before him. I have a vision of a workshop full of overflowing piles of leather and shoes in chilly Russia. Just wonderful.
At 14 years, Boris started to create his own collection of shoes when he was in college in Russia. Boris continued working in the leather business in Russia until 1989 when he emigrated to Australia with his wife. That year they bought Emilio Leather from a Hungarian gentleman with an established customer base of one, who made bags for the markets in Sydney.
In 1990 they officially launched, with Marianna managing the business side and Boris as the leather crafter. Word of mouth orders increased every week. Since then Emilio Leather has been crafting and creating bags for over 26 years just on referrals alone, without any promotion or advertising. This is a testament to their skills and just how absolutely lovely and supportive they are.
Boris it a true artisan. He can really make anything and quickly sees your vision. They have made bags, belts, aprons, handles, curtains and even film props. He loves clean, simple design and they prefer to stay away from making any leather clothing. When it is about his products, “It is all about good quality and how it is made” Boris told me.
When I asked about who they had worked with Boris and Marianna reeled off a list of top Australian designers who had started from nothing and are now international names. Brands including Lisa Ho for the Charlie Brown Collection, Willow for the Kitz Collection, Bec and Bridge, The Goods, Axel Mano, Ellery, Camilla & Marc, Funkis and Saba.
Over the years they have also diversified and create stationery covers, menus, cardholders, passport holders, upholstery, pillowcases, belts and bags but their skills do not stop there. They have also had the likes of Fox Studios requesting customised accessories for Hollywood films like the 2013 remake of The Great Gatsby. For this they made Leonardo DiCaprio’s wallet, the golf bags and golf club covers, echoing a 1922 design, which were used by Tobey Maguire in the movie. Leather quivers were also another unique request for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine character when it was being filmed in Australia. They both laughed at my excitement and said that as glamorous as it sounds, all of their film accessory requests have had incredibly quick turnarounds, often leaving the pair working on weekends and late into the night.
Despite Boris’ heritage coming from shoemaking, he has not continued to make shoes. He says it is unfortunate, however it has just become too expensive and time consuming to produce by hand. His favorite pieces to create are the simple pieces.
Below are some more fabulous highlights I wanted to share from our chat.
Aisha: What brands/designers do you admire?
Marianna: We really admire people who we have worked with who are smart, grown their business and built long friendships. Tara Williams, designer and stylist, was fantastic and is now in LA. She was a good businesswoman. Jordana, when she worked for Nina Maya making belts and clutches, Gary Bigeni and so many more.
Aisha: What are your plans with the business.
Marianna: (quickly comments) Pay off the mortgage.
Boris: Good question – as long as the mortgage has to be paid, we are in the same boat as everyone else. This industry is not to make money, only for you to be proud and pleased with what you craft. And that is about it. Has to be a passion and not only source for a living. In the past you could make money from leather but the fashion industry is tough and all designers barely survive. People who have knowledge of traditional making know handmade always has marks that you can see but that is quality. Now everyone wants manufacture quality like they are buying Prada and there is less appreciation for handmade.
Aisha: What are the pros and cons of working with your partner for over 26 years?
Borris: It’s a laugh….
Marianna: I did not expect that – we were arguing all morning and he is probably scared. Charming husband (she giggles). You have to be honest and not worry if there is a cross over to business partner instead of wife when you are working.
Aisha: Are there negatives?
(They both look at each other and laugh – and say no?)
Marianna: He never treats me, as a wife here; there is no wife and husband in the factory working together. But it does boost your creativity and energy when we talk together, get excited and have a laugh. Everyone thinks it is just Boris but he can’t survive without me here.
Aisha: What techniques do you think are essential to maintain the highest quality?
Boris: To pay attention to every detail.
Aisha: What’s your favorite Hills & West accessory and why?
Boris: Credit card holder, because it is the easiest.
Marianna: Morgan mini – universal, comfortable, cute and nice.
I wanted to say thank you to you both. Thank you for all of the support and advice over the last year. I look forward to working with you for a long long time and hope that I can be one of the businesswomen that you are proud of one day.