Ernest Sabine has just doubled his workload.
The designer and founder of the accessories brand Ernest Alexander has been named creative director of J.W. Hulme Co., a leather goods and canvas products brand that was founded in 1905. J.W. Hulme, which is based in St. Paul, is best known for its handmade, heirloom-quality products and Old School finishing techniques.
Sabine, who started his Ernest Alexander label in 2009, is a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and was the recipient of GQ’s Best New Designer in America award.
He said Dean Vanech, the owner of J.W. Hulme, “had been looking for ways to evolve the brand from both a product and branding point of view. My name came up and we connected. It instantly felt like a natural fit — there is a lot of crossover between my background in the men’s bag world and J.W. Hulme’s rich history of making beautiful bags and leather goods.”
Sabine said the initial deal is for one year with the potential to collaborate on future seasons. In addition to overseeing the artistic direction and aesthetics of the brand, he will also be involved in its marketing and advertising efforts.
Sabine said that, with a history that dates back over a century, “there is a wealth of tradition to build upon and a very loyal Hulme following. To date, the brand has been a relatively untapped gem, so part of my mission is to help bring the brand to the forefront through new imagery and elevated storytelling. In taking over as creative director, I am balancing the fine line of staying true to the foundation of what Hulme is all about — classic shapes, beautiful leathers — while guiding the brand into a modern era.”
For the fall campaign, Sabine said he sought to capture something “more elevated and aspirational while still staying true to J.W. Hulme’s history and Minnesota roots. We ended up shooting a travel-themed story around the lake country of Minnetonka, which made for some beautiful pictures.”
He said that as the case with other luxury leather goods brands, customers are seeking not only quality and beauty, but also form and function. “As we evolve into future seasons, our focus is on designing products that blend our traditional materials with how people actually live their modern daily lives, be it work, travel or weekend. A fine balance but a fun challenge.”
At the same time he’s working with Hulme, Sabine will continue to design Ernest Alexander out of his New York design studio.
“It makes for a full schedule juggling both brands, but it’s been refreshing to step into the shoes of another label,” he said. “As a designer, you can get a little stagnant if you stay put in the same place.”
Because Hulme is based in St. Paul, it has afforded him the opportunity to “soak in the sights and sounds of an entirely new city. Working in St. Paul has opened me up to a totally new influence. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the Twin Cities have such a vibrant history and are in the midst of a major resurgence in terms of food, arts and culture. Plus, the people tend to be a lot nicer out in Minnesota.”
The brand was founded by John Willis Hulme to provide products for turn-of-the-century outdoorsmen seeking exploration and adventure. Vanech, chief executive officer of Olympus Capital Investments LLC, bought a 49 percent stake in the business when it was struggling in 2009. He was unavailable for further comment on Tuesday.