Klavs Graae’s The Soul of Leather—Makers of the World’s Most Luxurious Belts and Hunting Accessories.
In the real estate business, there is the adage, “location, location, location.” In the leather goods business, there is the phrase “material, material, material.” And for Danish-born leather designer Klavs Graae, the phrase transcends business philosophy and enters the realm of business religion.
When Klavs Graae uses calf and buffalo leathers, they must be from Scandinavian-bred-and-raised animals, the cold, northern climate and the region’s special breeds producing an exceedingly durable, yet supple, leather. And Graae’s exotic leathers—alligator, crocodile, lizard, elephant, and ostrich—are all tanned in Italy with CITES certificates guaranteeing that the skins have met the conditions of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. All of Graae’s leathers are vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed (as opposed to chrome-tanned) in Italy using the absolute highest standards, thereby producing materials that endure and patinate beautifully. Graae’s aim is to produce luxurious leather items that last a lifetime and beyond.
But of all Graae’s products—from hunting bags to business card holders to knife sheaths—he is most revered for his handmade belts with their trademark solid sterling silver buckles. A Klavs Graae belt is designed and crafted such that a young gentleman can wear a belt once worn by his father.
Graae hand-selects each skin from the world’s best tanneries, including Italy’s Tempesti, supplier of the vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed skins used to produce the belts. Tanned from natural plant extracts such as oak bark, rhubarb, eucalyptus, and acacia bark, the skins attain rich hues that age and patinate beautifully. The handmade collection is made-to-measure, one customer at a time; and each element of the construction of each belt—the design, the pattern-making, the cutting, and the sewing—begins and ends at the Copenhagen workshop. Klavs Graae—himself—crafts each belt, from beginning to end and each step in between. And customers are offered the options of selecting specific buckles, thread color, leather color, etc., thereby individualizing their purchases. Each belt is interlined to create contour and lined with Scandinavian calfskin for suppleness and durability. Serafina silk thread is used to finely stitch the perimeter of the skin, and the belt’s beveled edge is hand-rubbed. Dyed, elliptically shaped buckle holes called “double holes”—a “trademark” invented by Graae—allow for a more forgiving fit, and the Graae-designed buckles are made of hand-polished sterling silver. A Graae belt is crafted to become an heirloom piece, improving with age. He offers a custom-dye option, allowing clients to match the color of their belts to their shoes or some other accessory. Each belt is sold in a pouch made of leather of the Scandinavian elk. A certificate verifying the authenticity and origin of the skin from which it is made, and a silver-polishing cloth is provided with each belt.
But one does not just “become” or “declare oneself” the world’s greatest maker of belts; it requires a lifetime commitment to the trade. Klavs Graae entered the leather trade in 1967, fresh out of high school, when he worked at “Bit ov Sole,” the first European leather shop in Copenhagen, craftsmen from all over Europe collaborating and sharing their ideas there. There, Graae designed and made leather garments for such music luminaries as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Then two years later, in 1969, he moved to the enchanting Balearic island of Ibiza, where his handmade leather products became immediately popular with Americans who had sought refuge on the island in their attempts to avoid the Vietnam War. But after one year in Franco-era Spain, Graae returned to Scandinavia, where he lived for 14 years in the forests of Småland, Sweden, breeding wild boar, amongst other things. And it is there, amidst the noble wild boar, that he received the inspiration for his present-day logo, which incorporates the boar’s head.
In 1984 Graae “returned to the civilized world” and founded Graae Design, a company specializing in handmade belts and leather goods. (During those years he was also commissioned by Royal Copenhagen to create special leather cases for the company’s luxurious “Flora Danica” porcelain line). But to a large degree, it was Graae’s decision in 2001 to launch the “Klavs Graae Solid Silver Collection,” a series of exquisite leather belts featuring exotic skins and solid silver buckles, that began solidifying his claim as the maker of the world’s most luxurious belts. In 2009, Graae Design became Graae Copenhagen, the new company expanding its product line to include such items as weekend bags and iPad cases. In 2014, after five years with the newly organized Graae Copenhagen, Klavs Graae left the company and established Klavs Graae—The Soul of Leather in 2016 (www.soulofleather.squarespace.com ) . It is his hope to pass on his more than half-century experience in fine leather-making to the next generation.