Steve Sparks, founder of Capricorn Hides, first approached Jesse Meyer, CEO of Pergamena Parchments & Leathers, in Summer 2020 about partnering to create a unique collection of handcrafted and hand-adorned premium leathers. Now that their ideas have been realized, the two visionaries joined us to discuss the collaboration and design process.
Raymond Paul Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Summer 2020. Steve first discovered Pergamena 15 years ago while working with Dessin Fournir in LA, where he learned about the Meyer family’s multi-generational heritage dating back to the 1500s, and the time-honored production methods that they continue to employ today at the brand’s Hudson Valley tannery.
Pergamena’s artisanal leathers—which include clean cowhides and goat skins in a range of finishes, as well as in an array of colors—serve as the perfect canvas for Steve’s artistry. The Pergamena x Capricorn Hides collection will feature a new selection of Pergamena’s leathers adorned with Capricorn Hide’s signature custom designs—including embossed, engraved, etched, and painted patterns—all hand-crafted in Capricorn’s Philadelphia studio, where he relocated in 2019. Capricorn Hides will also serve as the exclusive distributor for the Pergamena x Capricorn Hides collection.
Raymond: What was the overall timeline from conception to achieving the final design?
Following the initial conversation, the Pergamena x Capricorn Hides collection took approximately 6 months to develop. Jesse provided a selection of custom Pergamena leathers, which Steve used as a canvas to showcase a new series of Capricorn Hides’ sophisticated, one-of-a-kind patterns and designs—many of which have been in development for some time.
The past year enabled Steve to experiment and develop new patterns utilizing a variety of techniques including engraving, embossing and hand painting. The collection remains a continual work in progress as each piece is unique and made to order.
Raymond: What was your initial inspiration, and where did the idea(s) come from?
For the Pergamena hides, Jesse’s employs a vegetable tanning (veg-tan) process that honors the organic nature of the materials, and produces hides that are sophisticated and durable, yet reflect earth tones with minimal polish. For the adornment, like any artist, Steve loves to experiment. He recently created several designs that mimic rich, saturated damask and feature a metallic wash. Additionally, he hand-painted a series of hides that mimic iridescent glass. Steve also draws inspiration from the work of top designers in the industry (many of whom he works with) and often envisions how the Pergamena x Capricorn Hides designs will look in their projects.
Raymond: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
Both Jesse and Steve cite experimentation as a key aspect of the overall creative and design process, with Jesse going so far as to describe himself as ‘mad scientist meets creative artist’ in the creation of the hides.
After graduating from SUNY New Paltz with a BFA in sculpture, Jesse first pursued sculpture—exhibiting his work in invitational shows over the years.
Jesse brings his experience working with color, minerals and raw materials as a sculptor to his craft at Pergamena as he has found that there is wonderful cross-pollination between the two worlds. He especially appreciates how depth of color can transform the hides, and how it can enhance and further beautify the natural grain patterning of the leather.
Raymond: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
The Pergamena x Capricorn Hides collection is tailored for the luxury home interior design market with infinite applications for furnishings and decorative arts. In addition, the artisans at Pergamena and Capricorn Hides have the ability to work hand-in-hand with designers to craft custom pieces specifically for a project to produce designs that are truly one of a kind.
Additionally, the artisans’ visceral understanding of what these materials are capable of and how it behaves enables designers to work in tandem with Jesse and Steve to create something truly spectacular and one-of-a-kind with Pergamena x Capricorn Hides. This partnership provides a new distribution channel for Pergamena and Steve is a master at articulating the level of craftsmanship that goes into creating each piece in the Pergamena x Capricorn Hides collection.
Raymond: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials you used to develop and prototype this design?
Pergamena is based in New York’s Hudson Valley where traditional tanning methods blend with modern innovations and aesthetics to produce one-of-a-kind collections. Jesse actually makes some of his leathermaking tools by hand as they are no longer readily or commercially available. Since its European origins in the 1500s, the company is still family run and continues to use vegetable leather tanning (veg-tan) methods to produce durable, long-lasting leather that ages beautifully.
Vegetable leather tanning is an environmentally sound process that uses plant- based extracts as the primary tanning component and illustrates Pergamena’s commitment to sustainability. Despite being a more time and labor-intensive process, vegetable leather tanning does not produce toxic wastewater contaminated with heavy metals, which is a byproduct of chrome tanning—the process by which approximately 90% of the world’s leather is produced on a mass scale today.
Steve at Capricorn Hides also employs hand-crafted techniques and processes to produce the intricate designs on the Pergamena leather.
Raymond: Did you utilize a new technique or technology to conceptualize this product?
No, if anything, Jesse used antiquated technologies to create the Pergamena leathers. The tannery employs machinery and tools that are outdated and many of the processes are developed from old books, which results in a lot of trial and error. Colors are mixed by hand, and the hides are manipulated using traditional, hand-crafted techniques that result in a finished product imbued with unique characteristics. No two pieces are alike and it’s that inconsistency that leads to the beauty of the finished product. Steve too, approaches each design uniquely, carefully studying each piece’s graining and color to determine the technique he will employ to adorn each piece.
Raymond: Please describe any challenges that affected the design and perhaps steered you to an entirely new final design?
Working with limitation and uncertainty pushes Jesse and Steve to be more creative. Every sample is made to order so designers are required to return the samples in order for Jesse and Steve to use it as a template to replicate the piece as closely as possible. Because the collection often features custom color and technique, the final product may feature some variations based on the hand- crafted process that employed from start to finish. But it’s this variation that makes it beautiful and unique – this collection is not off an assembly line.
Raymond: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos
Today, Pergamena remains a family business, and since its founding, each Meyer who’s headed the company has brought his own set of standards and aesthetics. Jesse’s creativity, and continued innovation provide immense fulfillment and keeps a long-standing tradition of leather production alive and thriving. And, Jesse continues to develop new applications for the business, such as introducing parchment, which also has many applications for furnishings and the decorative arts.
For Steve, Pergamena’s old-world approach is unusually unique as there are no other brands in North America that produce leathers using time-honored methods and techniques. Pergamena’s leathers serve as the perfect canvas on which to create his one-of-a-kind artistry for the Pergamena x Capricorn Hides collection.
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