I am striving to make bags that never go out of style.
Tina Lutz knows the industry. She was an insider at Calvin Klein during the early 90’s, back when Kate Moss was still a model for fittings. She held senior positions at Issey Miyake and TSE Cashmere, is a member of the CFDA (Council of Fashion Designers of America) and built up the successful brand Lutz & Patmos. When moving back to her native Germany, Lutz fell in love with the local artisanship and founded her high-end accessory label Lutz Morris.
Lutz Morris stands for classic and chic bags that appeal to customers who are confident and know their own style. The best raw materials meet precious manufacturing and craftsmanship and shine, even without a well-known logo.
Interview met Tina Lutz in Berlin and asked her about her exciting carreer path, her approach to design, sustainability and the future of her brand.
INTERVIEW Is there a secret to classic design?
TINA LUTZ I think classic design is more of a personal taste. I have always liked things that are timeless and I shyed away from trends that are only relevant for a season. I invest into pieces that I can wear for years and which I can get attached to. That for me is true luxury. it’s that goal to create something you have in your closet for a long time, not just tossing it after you’ve worn it – being responsible. Also back when I worked at Calvin Klein there was always a certain minimalist aesthetic present. We were thinking from seasons to years, from day into night and that carried through into my work. When I look at my own wardrobe, I find so many things that I bought in the 90’s that I still wear today and that have not lost it’s fashionable appeal – of course everything repeats itself. I think this approach has always been within me, my dad was an architect and our house was very clean and minimalistic. When I started the line Lutz Morris I was really striving to make bags that never go out of style.
I What is your take on sustainability?
TL There are three pillars in my carreer that I always try to fulfil. The first one is responsible production. Sustainability is such a big word that no one can really live up to. I co-founded the sustainability commitee for the CFDA because I have been dealing with this topic for over 20 years. Nowadays everyone jumps on it but especially in fashion it is very hard to be truly sustainable. For example, to make an organic cotton t-shirt it takes a lot of water. And when it is dyed, is it still sustainable? The second pillar of my carreer is to support artisans. I used to work with artisans from all over the world that created outstanding work. When I moved from New York back to my native Germany I re-discovered german artisans – true magicians. They were all struggeling to stay in business because of the price pressure and a lot was outsourced to Asia. It is known that luxury companies make the majority of their product components in Asia and then put them together in let’s say Italy and put the label ‘Made in Italy’ on it. My work is almost an hommage to Germany in a sense. For me it is a big responsibility to keep the artisanship going. I think it is sad that Germany doesn’t have more programs to support the craft. Number three is altruism, to give back. And that I have done also for over 20 years. I created a guest designer program back in the days and collaborated with names like Sofia Coppola, Kirsten Dunst or Jane Birkin. The proceeds would always go to a charity of their choice. Also, Christy Turlington started a charity that is called ‘Every mother counts’. It is preventing maternal mortality across the world. Especially nowadays in the U.S., a lot of immigrants don’t go see a doctor when they are pregnant because they are afraid that they might get deported. Ten dollars of every sold Lutz Morris bag goes to this charity.
I How can leather be sustainable?
TL There is a question that I used to ask myself very often: do I use real leather or synthetic leather? Synthetic leather is basically plastic and 99% of real leather comes from Asia and is not sustainable. Whenever you work with leather it doesn’t make sense to talk about sustainability. Even the tanners I work with are gold certified but I couldn’t sleep at night calling the whole process sustainable. It is a responsible approach and goes in accordance with the strictest of the German regulations. I know every single person that works on my bags. I’ve gone to all the manufacturing houses and made sure that they work under the best conditions. Because 90% of all the material I use for my bags comes from Germany and the other 10% come from Italy. The leather I work with is a by-product of the milk industry and it does not travel far. In general, I don’t even know what to call sustainable anymore because as soon as you work in fashion and you produce something you leave a footprint. Sustainability in fashion is such a grey zone.
I Do you think artisanship and craftsmanship is the answer to fast fashion?
TL I think so. But of course hand-crafted products are so much more expensive – so there another problem appears. I am sure a lot of people would like to buy more responsibly but they don’t have the means to do so. It is very important that fast fashion changes its approach. Some people try, but there is a much bigger problem in the awareness around it. If you think back to the 50’s or the 60’s, people didn’t buy clothes the same way as we buy them now.
There are brands out there that are very expensive and the kids are saving their money in order to buy a branded sweater which they won’t be wearing anymore a few years from now. Either the brand is not cool anymore or they move on to something else. I feel like that is the problem. We keep talking about what true luxury is. The problem right now with these very trendy brands is that the quality has dropped a lot and you just pay for the logo. Then you have those garments and when you wash them a few times they suddenly don’t look so different from something that costs 20 dollars. For me true luxury is something that is made out of the perfect raw materials and it is put together under good conditions. I believe that garments and accessories have a soul, like you can feel it if they were made with love. Most things are just slapped together real quick. I hope the customer can tell that with my products there is attention to detail and they are made with passion.
I Who do you imagine when thinking of the person that buys Lutz Morris bags?
TL The woman who buys Lutz Morris is secure in her taste. She does not need the brand recognition and appreciates timeless design without logos. A lot of women still buy bags in order to show off, to display that they wear a certain bag. It is almost like walking around with a price tag. The woman that buys my bags is way beyond that and doesn’t want a bag that is recognizable to everyone, she just loves the design of it. Nowadays it is really hard to find bags that are toned down, timeless and useful.
I Did you always dream of having your own brand?
TL I guess I did because at all of the other jobs I had, I never found all of the aforementioned elements combined. I also really wanted to work with people that I like, who have the same visions and treat each other with respect. That’s really difficult to find in fashion – people who treat each other nicely. So when I started the brand Lutz & Patmos with my business partner in ’99 and launched in 2000 we did that and it became quite big in the U.S. and in Asia. We separated in 2011 and I consulted for other brands after that. When I came back to Germany I was still consulting but the company kind of fell in my lap. My background is in tailoring and knit wear and when I was at Calvin I did oversee accessories as well. It is not really my expertise but I loved coming here and looking into industrial design. Because designing a bag is like designing an object where you don’t have to worry about fitting. I also loved diving into hard wear and it was exciting to get challenged in a different way.
I You lived in places all over the world. Why was it the right time and place to come back to Germany?
TL Mostly because of my parents who were not doing so well at that time. Also our son had just turned ten and he refused to speak German. We really thought we would only be here for a year and arrived with only three suitcases each. Everything was planned on going back to New York. But we kind of got stuck, my parents were doing better and my son really liked it here and picked up German so quickly. In the end it was really good for us to get out of the hamster wheel in New York. Here I had the opportunity to start my company because I was able to break out of the routine.
I You have worked as a designer and creative director for the most prestigious brands in the world like Calvin Klein or Issey Miyake. At the time in the early 90’s New York, did you feel like you were part of writing fashion history?
TL When I worked for Calvin Klein, I was working on the 9th floor of the 205 West 39 Street that later became the name of Raf Simons’ line. So on that floor there was Calvin, his wife Kelly, the PR department with Carolyn Bessette, there was Narciso Rodriguez and the design team. Back then we were all just designers working with Calvin. There was only a tiny kitchen and a bathroom so you would constantly see each other and we were working crazy hours so we spent a lot of time together. I remember when Carolyn (Bessette) started dating John F. Kennedy Jr. and it really started to take off. So Narciso designed Carolyn’s wedding dress and it was all over the media. It was really a dream come true for me when I was able to move to New York to work for Calvin Klein. Those early days with Marky Mark, back when Kate Moss would be our fit model. We could feel that we were part of something in demand, something exciting. In retrospective you realize that this was really crazy – all of those people who worked together on that floor. Those were also my most formative years and I have so much respect for Calvin. Working and being in meetings with him was great. It was inspiring how he analysed things, how he communicated his vision. He is a marketing wizard who would never contradict himself.
I How does your creative process look like nowadays?
TL It is still the same – getting inspired by art, architecture, dance, performance or a movie. Then creating a colour story around it and getting into the techniques and treatments. You move worlds together and you go out and look at all the materials. I go into the tanneries to really get the right colours and spend a lot of time in the factory.
I What role does the material play when you are designing?
TL It is everything. Material dictates what you do in the end. Because the material is either stiff or soft. With leathers there are so many different ways and thicknesses, also tanning processes. You can have oiled leather and you can have leathers that feel like fabrics, also stretch leather is a thing nowadays.
I How did you experience the work for the CFDA and Committees like the Sustainability Committee, New Member Committee, and Education Committee?
TL Being here in Germany I haven’t been able to be as involved with the CFDA as I would have wanted to but I used to teach at RISD (Rhode Island School Of Design). I taught the seniors and they always do a big fashion show in the end of their studies and have to prepare their portfolio in order to get jobs. The CFDA started a huge education program because it is so hard to land a job in that field. Back then I still had a fourth pillar, which was to include students into my work. I always selected a few students that would work with me on the TSE Cashmere collection. So we shot the pieces professionaly and then they had something to show in their portfolio that made them stand out of the crowd. The CFDA is doing a great job, especially in supporting upcoming designers.
I What are you looking forward to with your own brand?
TL My main goal is to keep the artisans going. I want them to survive and I want the charity ‘Every Mother Counts’ to do even better work. Also I want to live from it. I can definitely see it expanding. I am doing a collaboration soon with an L.A. brand called Barton Perreira, which does glasses and which has the same strict production guidelines. They also work with artisans, but in Japan. Right now I am very content with where I am.
Words JULIA DEUTSCH
Interview SARAH OSEI