Bertrand Mak puts fine craftsmanship first in eponymous luxury brand

Bertrand Mak's eponymous luxury brand is inspired by a passion to put craftsmanship before anything else, writes Divia Harilela

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 12:03am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 8:30pm

Bertrand Mak is not a typical luxury brand owner - he doesn't care if his recently launched eponymous label makes money.

"I am trying to do a personal project on something I am passionate about. If someone happens to like what I do, then it's great but there's no commercial pressure.

I want my products to travel with you, and become a part of you

"Ultimately, with luxury, it's all about perception - who really needs luxury? With these items, it's about what I wanted for myself," he says.

As Rupert Sanderson's partner in Asia, Mak is well acquainted with the world of luxury. His career has included stints at LVMH, where he worked in the watches and jewellery department at Louis Vuitton, before joining auction house Christie's.

In 2010, he launched Rupert Sanderson in Hong Kong and later become involved in product development, introducing Asian exclusives such as the Gold collection, featuring heels covered in 24-carat gold leaf.

Such projects gave him the confidence to launch his own line of leather goods and accessories, an idea that took two years to come to fruition.

"I have always been an extremely difficult customer. I find that when I go shopping, either I want to change something or I feel the price is too exorbitant for what it is. When I finally had the time to work on Bertrandmak, it took less than a year, because I knew exactly what I wanted, where to find the materials and who to work with," says the 32-year-old.

Taking an old wallet given to him by his grandmother as a starting point, Mak went on to create a well-edited collection of 15 accessories and leather goods that "is made using classical methods, but with a modern aesthetic", he says.

The design is also inspired by his personal style (think sartorial gentleman) so expect clean lines and quirky details.

Highlights include sleeves for your iPad or laptop, wallets, cardholders, passport covers, portfolios and a tote bag, while style aficionados will love non-essentials such as the watch pouch and wine carrier.

There is also a collection of umbrellas for men and women featuring a liberty print lining, and an animal head handle covered in 24-carat gold leaf (a process that is done by hand, making each piece unique).

All the leather goods are crafted from vegetable-tanned calfskin leather from Italy, which he selected because of its unique patina and neutral colour. This is combined with accents of lizard skin in a palette of purple, red and green, making the line perfect for men and women.

"I chose just one leather [called Victorian leather] because it will age beautifully and it will become unique to that person. It develops a patina that's linked to how you use or abuse it.

"I also personally love lizard. Other skins like croc are very in-your-face, but lizard is subtle and when you look at it up close it feels luxe, thanks to the texture. The combination is quite unusual," says Mak.

Quality was also high on his list of priorities, which is why Mak enlisted the help of artisans around the world to help bring the collection to life. He travelled to Tokyo to source one of the country's best shoemakers to create the loafers for the collection (each pair takes up to three months to complete).

"I would have used Rupert [Sanderson] but the logistics were too difficult. Besides, there's something about the Japanese - they are so meticulous and dedicated. They really strive for excellence. The artisan I use is a one-man band who speaks no English, so it was interesting," says Mak.

While the umbrellas are made in England by Fox, all of the leather goods are made in Hong Kong using a team of semi-retired craftsmen sourced by Mak himself. Many of them specialised in shoe and accessory repairs, so their idea of luxury wasn't necessarily aligned with his.

"Initially, I wanted everything to be made in Italy but realised it wasn't possible. The craftsmen I found in Hong Kong were really old dogs, in that you can't teach them new tricks," he says.

"It was difficult to explain my aesthetic - they were always challenging me because they come from a background of construction rather than aesthetic. But once they made the products, they realised they loved them and were proud of what they had done."

While many of the products are beautiful to look at, Mak says it's the fine details that set them apart. The soles of each shoe feature the initials "BM" in studs; all products are lined with red suede; interiors boast leather pockets; and there is little metal hardware, save for a few D-rings. Many products feature a V-shape design which is cut at an angle of 146 degrees (Mak's birthday is on April 16).

Practical details also abound, whether they are retractable handles on the portfolio case or tiny openings in the iPad sleeve so you can charge your device.

There is also minimal branding, save for a small logo and the word "handmade" written beneath it. Customers have the option to personalise each item, at no additional cost.

"If you need a logo on your product, then this is not for you. There are elements of the design that are recognisable but it's so subtle. I am really trying to appeal to someone sophisticated and seasoned - not too dissimilar to watch collectors. They want to find something different and more honest, a brand that is dedicated to the craft," he says.

Mak has decided not to retail the collection in stores, and sells it on his own website so that he can control the brand message from beginning to end.

"I don't want to wholesale - it's ingrained in me from training at Louis Vuitton. They have a tight distribution and that's seared in my mind. I want control over pricing, how it's displayed, how the message is delivered to the customer. It's important for a new, unknown brand," he says.

Mak is collaborating with an independent watchmaker to launch a limited edition series next year at a much higher price point (in the millions). He has no plans to rush the next collection; his main objective is to find people to share in his passion.

"I want my products to travel with you, and become part of you. It sounds clichéd, but I want people to have this emotional connection to them just like I did with the wallet my grandmother gave me. That to me is true luxury."