Unknowingly, Tina Lutz’s husband Justin Morris didn’t just give her a Christmas gift she was crazy about in 2015, but also the impetus for her new luxury handbag company Lutz Morris.
“It kind of found me because Justin gave me a leather box with a handmade frame that was kind of a desk box for your pens. I fell in love with it,” said Lutz, adding that she researched the name of the company embossed on it to see if they might be interested in making a few prototypes since she was so inspired.
Eventually, the logistics of working with the generations-old company wound up being too difficult, due to the remoteness and their inability to answer e-mails and phone calls. When the patternmaker suffered a broken foot and required a three-month medical leave, both parties agreed to move on. Already invested in the idea and equipped with all kinds of sketches, the designer decided to look for another manufacturer who could work with handmade frames that are made by a family-run business dating back to the 1860s.
Having been based in Berlin for more than two years, the New York transplant decided to visit the frame-maker’s factory outside of Frankfurt. (She first moved to Germany with her husband and son in order to be closer to her parents, and have subsequently extended what was supposed to be a one-year stay.) “It is huge, massive — three floors of these crazy machines and there are only three people left in the whole building. He is close to retirement and he is trying to find someone. But he makes the best frames,” Lutz said. “This whole quest has become about German artisanship, how it is disappearing. And how can you help to keep it alive?”
In the early 1900s, Germany had a robust manufacturing business for leather goods especially saddles, saddle bags and boots, which started to dissipate in the Sixties and even more so in the Seventies as offshore production became more prevalent. “On my quest to find a factory I could work with I saw a lot of really sad things. I saw a lot of big factory halls with pictures of hundreds of people working there, and now there are just a handful of people left with the owners close to retirement age.”
With today’s exclusive launch of Lutz Morris luxury handbags at Matchesfashion.com, Lutz hopes to help keep those factories running. Working with a third-generation factory outside of Düsseldorf, Lutz now has developed items such as a clutch, a belt bag, three medium-sized bags with chains or straps, and two larger ones. To make the collection more transportable, each of the items are designed to fit within one another. Retail prices range from $590 to $1,430.
Having focused on tailoring and knitwear during most of her fashion career in New York, Lutz decided to test the waters for her high-end accessories before going full-steam ahead. Partnering with a friend who has an established trunk show business, she toured London, Berlin, Hamburg, Düsseldorf, Munich and Zurich and got “quite a lot of orders.” A second round of shows in June were also well-received, and finally a New York one Lutz held encouraged her to move forward. When she told the factory owner about the substantial order Matches placed, he had tears in his eyes, she said.
Starting with pre-fall, Lutz will wholesale her collection, which going forward will be offered for pre-fall and resort. Rainbonwave Showroom in London is representing the collection. To magnify the craftsmanship, the Lutz Morris lookbook features artistic photographs of the artisans and factory owners at work. There is also a map highlighting the provenance for the pebbled leather, frames, hand linked chains, packaging and printing, dust bags, gold-plated hardware, embossed leather. All leather is tanned to meet European standards. “The idea is really to have everything as close as possible so there is not a lot of shipping involved. Sometimes the factory owner’s son drives his Prius to pick up the leather. It’s literally a 45-minute drive.”
For every bag that is sold, Lutz Morris will donate $10 to Every Mother Counts, the nonprofit started by Christy Turlington Burns that is committed to making pregnancy and childbirth safe for every mother worldwide. A member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America since 2006, Lutz cofounded Lutz & Patmos and has served as a creative director for various brands.
“What I prefer here is it is more product design than fashion design. I love that I can liberate myself for a moment from fitting issues. It really is more like an object than a piece of clothing and that is quite freeing,” Lutz said.
Needing a high-quality leather that will work with the delicate frames, Lutz starts by choosing the leather. “I love the simplicity of the process because the choices in leather are a lot smaller than the choices in fabrics. At Première Vision, each booth has hundreds of swatches. At Lineapelle, every booth has maybe 30 different skins.” Lutz said, “I’ve realized the value of simplicity in moving to Berlin with just three suitcases each because we thought we would only be there for a year. We have been living a very simplified life. We have 80 boxes in storage that we’re not really missing at all. That simplicity of how we live our life in Berlin is also something I want in my life now on all different levels.”
That said, the streamlined design of Lutz Morris dovetails into her ideology as opposed to ready-to-wear which requires so many more designs — pants, coats, sweaters, dresses, Lutz said. At their son’s urging, Lutz and her husband have stayed in Berlin longer than expected. While she is committed to her new company, she and Morris have kept their New York apartment. “I always say I grew up in Paris because that was the first city that I moved to when I left home, and studied and worked there for five years. But I feel like in New York I became myself. The 24 years here made me feel like this is where I belong. I feel like this is my town,” she said.