Fashion in Hong Kong and China

Louis Vuitton bags reworked by Hong Kong-based designer with embroidery that looks part of the original fabric

Through his clothing brand Jay Ahr, Jonathan Riss has created a unique collection of embroidered Louis Vuitton Keepall bags that brings together all the techniques he has developed over the last 20 years

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 01 July, 2018, 10:01am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 July, 2018, 7:12pm

As designer handbag brands increasingly churn out “limited editions” that feature only the tiniest variations on their core styles, it is getting harder than ever to find a truly one-of-a-kind bag.

Hong Kong-based designer Jonathan Riss, however, is set to change that with his latest collection, which will launch on July 3 on and through his clothing brand Jay Ahr.

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Priced between US$7,000 and US$15,000, each bag is a reworked vintage Louis Vuitton Keepall (one of the French fashion house’s most popular styles) that looks completely different from those you can find at any store.

Each bag has been hand-embellished using intricate embroidery techniques, most of which Riss developed for Jay Ahr.

“This is a purely personal project born out of the wish to bring together all the embroidery techniques that I have developed in the last 20 years,” he explains. “I started learning the art at 19 years old in a factory in Mumbai, so I wanted to bring together all the talented artisans who turn my visualisations into reality. It was so important to use a timeless travel item like the Keepall as the base for the embroidery – this item is as relevant in our lives today as it will be in 20 years’ time.”

Riss’s creations are certainly eye-catching. Custom embroideries are layered and interwoven into each bag, with the patterns looking like they were part of the original fabric itself.

The production process is similar to how an artist creates a painting. Riss and his team deconstruct every bag before sending each separate piece of canvas to the embroiderers. Once they are finished, the bag is sewn back together using the original yarn. It can take days to complete one piece, with Riss using a team of embroiderers in India, China, Japan and Peru.

While many of the embroideries are taken from Riss’s archives, they are chosen specifically to match each bag.

“As I collect these bags from around the world, I imagine that each one is testament to the history and cultural heritage from the region where it was found. I’ve kept a record of each bag’s production date and provenance, which further inspires the embroidery artwork applied onto them,” he says.

“For example, a bag from Russia features a USSR flag embroidery because it was created in December 1991, which is the same month of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. A bag from Hong Kong circa 1997 features a Hong Kong flag with gold embroidery to commemorate the official handover date.”

The first series that goes on sale will include more world flags (almost 130 of them) along with other iconic flags including the rainbow flag and even a pirate flag. There are also a few pieces featuring Persian rug embroideries from Iran, while bags from the “Chinese Art and Culture” series are emblazoned with emblems such as dragons.

Launching later are pieces featuring erotic Shunga drawings and ancient calligraphy from Japan, while a music series pays tributes to the likes of Prince and David Bowie.

In addition to launching more pieces later in the year (he has a collection of over 1,000 Keepalls), Riss is also eyeing other designer brands he can customise.

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Looking ahead, he hopes to create an online platform where customers can upload an image of the bag that they want to customise, and then select the embroidery the want from his database.

“Throughout this process I have seen how beautiful it is to embellish an existing and historic object,” Riss says. “It is firstly sustainable, and secondly it is about improvement rather than ego. The reinvention of those pre-owned and sometimes quite worn pieces into a unique contemporary object was very interesting to me. I am sure my customers will feel the same way as I do.”