Byline: Kristin Young

Leonard Kamhout wants his heart on everybody’s sleeve. The precious metals artisan, who was one of the original designers of Los Angeles accessories company Chrome Hearts, opened two stores in Japan in October and is planning another in Los Angeles later this year under his own L.One label.
“It’s gotten to the point where we just don’t want to put our stuff in somebody else’s store,” said Kamhout, who left Chrome Hearts about five years ago. “I wanted to have something to do with the atmosphere of the whole enterprise.”
Kamhout, whose collections are so appreciated in Asia that he has been dubbed “the silver king” there, recently opened a 1,800-square-foot unit in Tokyo. A slightly larger shop in Osaka opened within a four-story wedge-shaped building designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. There, dramatic steep stairwells and water walls with separate streams on which images are projected serve as the backdrop to his collections.
A lease has yet to be signed for the Los Angeles store. Although somewhat reminiscent of Chrome Hearts in its use of chunky gold and silver links, the L.One collection is decidedly softer in tone, with a “Love and War” theme. A group called “Mating Flight” resembles a rose motif, but on closer inspection, angular doves in an embrace are the actual pattern. Kamhout looked at circling hawks and low-flying French fighter jets as muses — he was embroiled in a stormy affair at the time and these two images seemed to portray it.
The silver collection — comprising chokers, belts, rings, earrings and watches — retails from $250 to $5,000, while 22-karat yellow gold pieces fetch up to $10,000, especially when custom made.
Like the soft images he creates on the hard metal, Kamhout himself is a study in contrast. Having recently moved back to Los Angeles from West Virginia, Kamhout looks like he would be more comfortable on an ape-hanger Harley than on Seventh Avenue, where he picked up a CFDA award for accessories design in 1992.
His penchant for the esoteric goes back to the early days of his career when he created jewelry for statues of deities. He later studied the hand-crafting of silver in India.
L.One’s collection, which includes a chain-link swimsuit, does not include many leather items. Kamhout is a vegetarian and prefers not to wear leather — two attributes that made churning out pieces for the leather-centric Chrome Hearts line particularly challenging, he said.
“For me [leather] smells like death,” he said. “I can’t take the killing.”
That said, leather will appear as a conduit for making belt buckles. “I couldn’t avoid it because buckles are too much fun to make.”