In a little over a month, we’re hosting the sixth Ledbury Quail Hunt, which is an annual gathering of chefs, makers, friends, and family in Goochland, VA. It’s truly a celebration of the best Virginia has to offer, and this year we’re honored to partner with leather goods maker Moore & Giles for the second year. To introduce you to the brand, we interviewed their director of design, Thomas Brennan, about the companies rich history, his recent travels, and how he ended up with such a cool gig.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you end up at Moore & Giles?
My path to Moore & Giles is a meandering loop that begins and ends in Lynchburg. I grew up here, went to New England for college, discovered architecture and threw myself into design with an amateur’s enthusiasm. A few years after graduating I found the pace of building buildings to be too glacial for me. I can delay gratification with the best of them, but I still have my limits.
Trying out another interest, I shifted from architecture to food, starting as a butcher’s apprentice and gradually finding my way into the kitchen: going from Boston to Portland, Maine to Brooklyn. By the time I was in Brooklyn, the design itch had returned. Familiar with Moore & Giles bags and impressed that this group in Lynchburg (of all places) was producing such luxurious product, I leaped at an offer to intern. My position has evolved over the last six years from that first rung, allowing me to work with an understanding of and respect for every step of the process from prototyping to packing an order for a customer.
What is your role?
I am the Director of Design for the Bags and Accessories division. I design travel and work bags; specialty pieces like an extravagantly cool horseshoe sets and limited edition turntable; and a little bit of furniture. I try to gently guide the overall look of the brand.
The brand seems so infused with its surroundings. How does being headquartered in Lynchburg shape the company culture?
One hundred years ago, Lynchburg was a major shoe-manufacturing hub in the US. A lot of the old buildings downtown still sport faded hand-painted signs and charming corporate slogans (“Longwear shoes wear longer”). The 1930s depression was the beginning of the local industry’s decline but also the genesis of the company that would become Moore & Giles who began travelling around the region, selling the ingredients for shoes—-eyelets, lasts, laces, and most importantly, leather. We are the direct descendants of a local industry that focused on making leather goods that would last. So much knowledge and experience has been accumulated and passed down over the last nine decades, it’s impossible not to think, work, and design with generations (past and future) in mind.
The seasonal catalogs are so beautiful. What’s the inspiration behind the most recent release?
Our marketing team always tells a captivating visual story in our catalogs. The upcoming edition is the holiday catalog, which is typically full of seasonal references. But they’ve recently introduced a camera-equipped drone to their toolbox so what they’ve come up with is a far cry from portraits of neatly wrapped packages under a well-decorated tree. They’re able to capture the physical beauty of our area in a way that either makes you happy to be from Virginia or leaves you wishing you could climb inside the page.
You’re pretty well traveled. What’s your most favorite destination of late?
I’ve made two recent trips to Leon, Mexico, a leather-working mecca with enough tanneries and artisans to earn the title “leather capital of Latin America.” The tanneries we visited were producing incredible leathers and I get the impression that you wouldn’t have to carry one of those beautiful hides far to find a maker who could transform it into a remarkable shoe or bag or piece of furniture. The city is lively and the landscape is striking: the desert surrounding the town is majestic and also, as an added bonus, the source of the dried scorpions we were served with our mezcal. They tasted like potato chips.
What’s next for Moore & Giles?
We’re about to release an interesting collection comprised of six of our classic silhouettes made using the first leather in the world to receive a “Declare” label from the International Living Future Institute. This designation certifies that every ingredient and every step of the process that produced this leather is sustainable and organic. The leather is tanned using a water-based solution (edible actually, though I preferred the scorpions) made from the extract of fallen olive leaves. The leather is incredible and makes one hell of a smart-looking bag.