By Tami Yu
Beatrice Amblard has always loved creating something with her hands. The French-born master leather artisan had a natural inclination for making wooden toys from a very young age.
"I used to build puppet theatres and make wooden boxes. I also liked to take bicycles apart and fix them," Amblard says. "I made my first skateboard before I even knew what it a skateboard was."
Her early talents quickly translated into a career choice. At 16, Amblard visited the famous Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris. She initially chose to enroll in the carpentry program, but at the last second she switched to the leather training program.
"It was love at first sight. The smell of the leather, the glue and the wax went right to my nostrils. I decided right there on the spot that I would become a master artisan in leather," Amblard says.
Amblard studied for two years and was immediately hired by Hermes in Paris. In 1987 she was appointed as the "Ambassador" to their San Francisco boutique. With fourteen years of experience in custom designing small leather goods, Amblard eventually opened April in Paris, where she built a strong and loyal following.
With popular styles like the Scarlett or Bea handbag, it's very easy to see why Amblard's work is in such high demand. Her 'contemporary-classic' designs are hand-finished with the traditional saddle stitch - the same exact way it was crafted 200 years ago. Marked with her signature logo of an 18-karat gold or sterling silver bee, every item is one-of-a-kind. Working with a few select French tanners, Amblard only uses fine skins for her products, including French calf, alligator, ostrich, and stingray. Dye lots can be requested, so one can order shocking pink alligator or persimmon ostrich skins.
Due to the intensive design process, it's no surprise that one might have to wait as long as four months for a custom-tailored handbag to be completed. It's worth the wait, as eachclient plays an interactive role in designing their own leather product, including the color selection and size of the finished product.
"Beatrice has a wonderful sense of perceiving a client's desires and enabling their vision to come to life," Jim Hogan, a senior merchandiser for Wilkes Bashford, says. "Her work essentially reflects the unique, personal style of each client."
In a fast-paced fashion world where nearly everything is mass-produced by machine, custom handcrafted leather accessories are indeed a rarity.
"The term 'hand-made' is bastardized these days," Amblard says. "If one person touches the fabric in the manufacturing process, it's considered 'hand-made.' Here, every step of the process, from start to finish, fits the true definition of hand-made."
Hogan concurs with Amblard's craftsmanship philosophy. "Dollar for dollar, her work is not a store-bought taste. It truly speaks of your love of luxurious, beautifully hand-crafted leather goods."
"I don't follow fashion trends," Amblard says. "I design what I like, and my work is made to last. My heart really goes into my work. Twenty years later I love it more than ever."
April in Paris is located at 55 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118, (415) 750-9910, www.aprilinparis.us