Give him stingray, kangaroo or bullfrog,
even mundane cow. If it has a hide, and you want a fashion statement
made out of it, Shannon of Flatlands is your man.
In a converted garage, the designer - he goes by just the one name - has created an authentic leather-working studio where he can follow his passion: creating quality, hand-crafted accessories, art and clothing. He uses techniques passed down from the masters, whether they make horse saddles in Wyoming or sumptuous seats for Harley Davidsons in New York City.
Because of the American West-flourishes Shannon incorporates into many of his accessories, along with his use of snakeskin - motifs seen strutting down the runways of last week’s fashion shows - it appears that it’s time for Shannon himself to step into the spotlight.
The artist, 35, is skilled at hand-tooling leather, any leather, for use as an assortment of goods: from hair barrettes secured with wooden sticks to belts and saddle bags.
His by-appointment-only business allows him to get to know each client’s needs, and the client gets to see the artist at work in his studio. However, the client might be surprised that this artist with such an affinity for cowboy accoutrements has a motorcycle for a horse - a 1992 FXRS Low Rider Harley - and a gallery of tattoos on his hefty arms.
But his passion for his craft quickly melts away any apprehension; he smiles often and his blue eyes twinkle as he explains the apparently limitless number of things he can fashion out of leather - from pillows to traveler’s wallets.
"When people say, ’Can you -?’, I say yes," said Shannon, who even embellishes denim with leather and studs.
Shannon enjoys working one-on-one with clients, and according to Second Skinz General Manager Lourdes Garcia, he welcomes a challenge. Shannon recently restored a 19th-century Peruvian trunk.
"I did that restoration project for a couple from Scarsdale," he said. The two-month job, which he got through an antique restoration company, included repairing damaged scalloped skirting on the trunk, installing leather stops inside and re-conditioning the leather. "They came to my studio to meet me because they couldn’t believe that someone still does that kind of work anymore."
Largely self-taught, Shannon has gone on pilgrimages to Wyoming, which he describes as "the cowboy capital of the world," to learn hand-tooling techniques from famous saddle-makers and silversmiths. He can now recommend buffalo leather’s grainy hide for one type of project while steering clients away from lightweight - but easily pierced - lambskin for another.
He is currently working on a pair of black pants made out of durable cowhide to be worn by a motorcycle-riding client.
Picking up a length of Japanese stingray hide, Shannon says, "This used to be worn years ago as armor to protect against swipes with a sword." Then he’s got a swath of supple kangaroo hide, dyed red, "This is the toughest leather there is. They make laces out of it - strong as iron."
Other skins at Shannon’s Second Skinz studio? How about African bullfrog for an eye-catching change purse or an Argentinean fish key fob?
He makes handbags, wristlets, clutches, briefcases, binders and even collars and leashes for pets.
His accessories range from a contemporary red-leather cuff with black stitching to a messenger bag cinched with rigging D’s (normally found on saddles) to a cobra skin belt with the head of the snake re-fashioned into an outrageous buckle.
Whether a classic, hand-dyed and hand-molded briefcase from vegetable tanned leather or the cobra-head belt, Shannon’s superior craftsmanship comes with a hefty price tag.
"My client is not the off-the-rack retail buyer," he said. "They are people who appreciate fine craftsmanship. I put my heart and soul into each piece."
When designing a piece of apparel - from vests to pants - Shannon has the client in for two fittings.
"Form and function do exist together," he said. "These items are meant to be used and not just look good."
Because each piece is handmade, the client is assured that their purchase is distinctive, one-of-a-kind and as haute couture as they’ll allow Shannon to get.
Still, the hulking designer hints at a rabble-rousing youth as an outlaw biker and a seven-year stint as a boxer fighting at Gleason’s Gym in DUMBO.
"When I was young, it was great being on the road for days at a time - a modern day cowboy," said Shannon. "It was a way to learn who I was, know where I came from and where I was going."
Now that he has returned to Brooklyn, Shannon has found some time for self-reflection. Shannon quotes one of his influences, the American author-mythologist Joseph Campbell (the four-volume "Masks of God"): "The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come."
In response to Campbell’s writings, Shannon invents flamboyant, haute couture masks - perhaps a symbol of his own metamorphoses - that can be worn or displayed.
"The different feelings that I can’t express come out in the masks," explained Shannon.
The former carpenter and Coney Island native converted a commercial garage into his studio and showroom in February.
His new space features plenty of elbowroom to work, display cases, an office with newly reupholstered leather chairs and even a small kitchen for entertaining.
In this urban environment, it’s a rare opportunity to see a master craftsman’s tool bench, century-old sewing machine, wood molds and assortment of exotic animal skins.
Although he has been working with leather for a decade, he began his business by taking his accessories to crafts shows and street fairs.
"It just wasn’t working," explained Shannon. "They loved the stuff but weren’t prepared to buy it on the spot. We did get clients who made appointments and came later."
Because this is a trade that’s handed down from one artisan to the next - and they are a rare breed - he is currently volunteering time to the City Kids of New York after-school program, where he teaches leatherworking classes.
"If I found a student who really wants to learn as much as I want to teach - I’m a firm believer in teaching anyone who wants to know," said Shannon. "I really love what I do! It’s almost a lost art, especially in Brooklyn It’s even very hard to find a good shoemaker!"
Second Skinz leather design studio is open by appointment only. Call (718) 377-7355 or visit the Web site at www.secondskinz.com.
©2004 Community News Group
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