I know that many of my readers love a good handbag (me included) and I have showcased many bag makers over the years on this blog – rabbit shapes, those inspired by buildings, and so on. So I’m thrilled to introduce onto my blog a company from Germany, Olbrish, whose distinctive designs have not only won my heart but have won some prestigious awards too. I caught up with the founder, Wolfgang Olbrish, recently to find out more about his impressive bag collections….
Hi Wolfgang, please introduce yourself and Olbrish….
Hello. We have been producing our handbags in Berlin since 1981. Over the years the company has changed a lot, both inside and, probably more, from the outside. What has stayed the same is the clear expression of form in our designs. For me and the factory Olbrish, it all started on the Kurfürstendamm where I offered the Berlin wall & city tourists my first hand-made hippie belts and hand-dyed hair clips. With the new collaboration with Bernd Goebel 1981, we started our own protest against the throw-away culture – our bags were mostly made of leather remnants. Today, our principle has remained the same: custom-made, bags for money, whatever the male or female customer wanted. In the early 90s, we hired the first professional seamstresses. I studied painting at the “Akademie der Künste” (University of Arts in Berlin) and things became more serious. The shapes of our bags became more geometrical and less playful; we moved to a bigger workshop in the heart of Berlin Kreuzberg. In 2003 the circle closed itself and we moved our store and were are back at the Kurfürstendamm, where it all started. Today we still produce everything by hand in our factory in Berlin Kreuzberg. We experiment with new materials like horsehair and our newest project, fish-leather from a small fish farm in Austria.
What inspires the distinctive designs of Olbrish bags?
Everyday objects like bowls, bathrobes or the human body itself. Both curves and edges are also beautiful in handbags.
Olbrish bags, briefcases, wallets and belts are made from genuine leather, woven horsehair & recycled materials. What are the main attributes towards working with leather?
Leather is a beautiful material. On the one hand it is very forgiving and easy to apply on our recycled carrier material, on the other hand extremely durable. The thing is, it is only forgiving if you know how to work with it and if you have the right machinery. We have special sewing machines for leather and the carrier material. Normal machines would break after a few stitches. The horsehair is a completely different story, although being even more durable than leather, it is not forgiving nor is it easy to work with in any way. It was a long process until we found out how to use it for our handbags.
I love the “Wave” bag – timeless chic! What bags are proving popular amongst your customers so far this season?
Our Wave handbag always works, usually in the classic black and red colour combination. But also the Torii in both sizes is a good selling bag. Normally the brand new bags sell well in the beginning, then after a year or so it shows if the bag has the potential to stay with us or if it will be stowed away to be rediscovered at the right time. Also the Arcade shoulderbag is very popular. It is also the one for which we got the “Red Dot Design Award – Best of the best”
The company also offers custom made bags. Have you had any bizarre requests?
Usually it is odd colour combinations like a bag in purple, orange and white.
Once a guy (seriously) asked if we could make him a bulletproof briefcase, when I asked him “but why?” he answered that he wanted to protect himself. I didn’t ask again and had to turn down his request.
Hypothetically speaking, which famous person would you love to see as the “face” of Olbrish?
Michelle Obama: she is great, beautiful, always looks energetic and has great sense for fashion.
Have you any other new products/accessories in the pipeline for 2019?
We have one new bag, which is not registered yet and no one has seen it so far. Only us in the factory have seen it and everyone in the company loves it so far which almost never happens. The last time this happened was 10 years ago when we won the red-dot design award. So we are really excited.
The company has won a few accolades over the years – congratulations- what award are you most proud of?
The “Red-Dot design Award- Best of the best” was probably the highlight.
As you are based in Berlin, are your products available to purchase overseas?
Yes, we ship worldwide but our main markets are Germany and the US. We would love to find new customers in the UK.
When designing bags to add to your collections, do you take into account your own tastes, your customer base, current fashion trends, requests, vintage quality or bits of all those?
I definitely take into account my own tastes, I listen to our customers and colleagues and try to design the bag with as little compromise as possible. If I listen to requests too much, the outcome of the bag is usually not as interesting. Trends are not really important to us. They change too often and are often outdated after only a few months. So even if we wanted to, we can’t design a whole new collection for only a few months, which has to be replaced by a new one in the next season. Also our bags are made to last and want to be worn for more than one season.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
Rainjacket- dark grey, striped shirt under a sweatshirt- in case a customer comes to visit and I have to look respectable, blue jeans- 501, dark grey sneakers.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites? (Apart from your own!)
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
A snake skin jacket, so I can feel 20 again.
Boots or Shoes?
Shoes, I don’t have boots.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook/twitter etc so that readers can find out more about Olbrish .
Many thanks Wolfgang! I must say that I find the idea of using fish leather very intriguing and I am on tenterhooks to see your latest bag design – looking at your other styles, I am sure it is just as exquisite!
All photographs have been published with kind permission from Wolfgang Olbrish.