Last year, when accessories designer Be Inthavong split with partner Steve Dumain and their label Be & D (of which Dumain now has sole control), he decided it was time for a return to his roots. In this case, that meant the silk-weaving business in Laos that Inthavong’s family has been a part of for ten generations. But like any good prodigal immigrant, Inthavong wanted a modern spin on the ancient craft, and after a year in development found his new direction: a patented technique of hand-looming very thin strips of leather into silk. If that sounds particularly labor-intensive, that’s because it is. The process takes a full day to weave about an inch of Inthavong’s leather-silk hybrid. Comparatively, silk looming goes at the pace of about a foot a day. The resulting effect is quite beautiful. Inthavong’s played with various color combinations of leather and silk for a richly hued texture. And even matte leather gets a bit of shine from the natural sheen of the silk.
“I wanted something artisanal but approachable and accessible,” said Inthavong last week at his Garment District studio. “And I wanted to put Laos on the map.” He’ll be doing that with his smart and clean-lined handbag collection, now under his own label Be Inthavong. This set of bags is dubbed the Heritage Weave collection, and considering its artisanal nature, is reasonably priced. (A medium-sized satchel, left, is $1,695.) And this is just the first step. Inthavong plans to introduce his innovation to the home market by reaching out to a select handful of interior designers. As for production capabilities, they’re apparently endless. Said Inthavong with a smile and a shrug, “We just build more looms.”