Vejas Kruszewski LVMH Prize

PARIS — Landing the top designer gig at a heritage fashion house may be the goal for many of the industries’ rising talents, but 21-year-old Canadian wunderkind Vejas Kruszewski has taken another tack by signing on as creative director of Pihakapi, a brand from Italian leather apparel producer Pellemoda.

A by-appointment presentation of the brand’s debut fall collection is set to take place during Paris men’s fashion week later this month.

Kruszewski, who has been working closely with Pellemoda for his own experimental label, Vejas, said accepting the role felt like “a natural progression, or at least a choice that made sense,” adding: “I liked that it was a little unconventional, the fact that a manufacturer wants to have its own brand….What I have always liked about making clothes is all of the processes related to the manufacturing, and they have the breadth of expertise because of the clients that they produce for.”

Founded in 1979, Pellemoda is said to produce leather apparel for brands including Dior, Coach, Céline, Balenciaga and Calvin Klein.

For now the self-taught designer is putting his brand — launched in 2015 at age 18 — on hold. The label counts around 30 wholesale clients including Browns and Harvey Nichols in London and Opening Ceremony in New York.

Scooping the 2016 LVMH Special Prize “opened up a lot of doors and my visibility as a designer to the point where something like this could be possible,” said Kruszewski, who described his vision for the new brand as “like a leather workshop for the future,” drawing from Pellemoda’s “archive of [prototypes].”

The brand’s quirky moniker — selected by Pellemoda’s owners, siblings Azzurra and Giampaolo Morelli — is based on the Italian pronunciation of the first letters of three words: pelle, which means skin in English; Hostage, the name of one of Pellemoda’s subsidiaries, and Pellemoda.

“The design will be progressive but drawing from this heritage of researching,” added the designer, who sees leather as one of his favorite mediums, even if he’s a vegetarian.

“I don’t eat meat really because I think it’s really bad for the environment, but at the same time I’m a little bit of a hypocrite because I really like using leather for design and wearing it. It’s a bit of a perverse medium, the fact that you’re wearing a skin of an animal, but then it can make such beautiful things and it feels so good,” said Kruszewski.

Key items in his Pihakapi collection will include a jacket based on the burgundy monkey boots with yellow topstitching popular with Mods in the late Sixties — “recontextualizing all of the elements.” He’ll also present totes using leather manipulations and techniques including a stretch quilted leather “that looks like bubble wrap” and shaved fur. A sneaker in leather and shearling versions was loosely based on a wrestling shoe.

A look from Pihakapi.

A look from Pihakapi.  Courtesy Photo

The plan, he said, is to add other categories as the brand grows. Retail prices are to range from around 150 euros for a top to 1,500 euros for a leather jacket.

Other examples of Italian manufacturers launching their own clothing lines include knitwear producer SMT’s experimental label, Nervure, designed by Andrea Biasini, that launched last year.