Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Everything Fringe, Top Hats and Freak Flags

While I was learning to master the art of making sandals, the women who worked at the Leather Shop were busy with the fine art of making clothes. In the beginning, there was Chris Young, Elfie Milling and Ilze Heider. Customers who wanted stylish leather clothes would commission us to make unique and one of a kind jackets, vests or pants. I had invested in an industrial sewing machine that was capable of sewing through the thickness of several layers of leather. The local tanneries supplied us with an unending supply of top grain cowhide. We studied all the current fashion magazines for tips and trends. We looked very closely at the west coast as it seemed like that area was fast becoming a leather hippie enclave. Business was good and money was available for advertising. We decided an ad should be procured in the local hippie rag, The Bugle American. and have us as the models. Here is me in the center, Chris to my right, Elfie at my left and Ilze reclining on the floor. The dog belonged to me and Chris. Her name was Heather:

The Leather Shop - 1968 to 1978

Besides making sandals, belts, watchbands and garments, we made a large selection of purses. Many of the purses were weighted heavily with hand cut fringe. To cut the fringe, I bought what looked like butcher block tables that were constructed with many pieces of wood glued together. The cutting surface was actually the end grain of the wood. We would treat the wood with linseed oil and sand the surface as it wore from all the repeated strokes of the knife along a straight edge. Another labor of love and a source of a few nasty cuts if one was not careful. My thumb still has a permanent nick in it.

By the end of 1969, my girlfriend decided to move to Colorado and Elfie went off to Paris. Ilze stayed at the shop until it's end in 1978. We were good friends and had a great working relationship. To this very day, Ilze is still doing leather and has remained very vibrant with her designs and style.

The end of the 1960's seemed to be an end of innocence in a way. The war was dragging on, protests were becoming more frequent and definitely more violent. Love-ins, be-ins were all being monitored by the police and the dreaded "Narcs". Woodstock had come and gone with no major change in our society. The establishment was still in control.

As a merchant, I represented the "Establishment"  but by some I was seen as a bonafide "Hippie". I was accepted by the underground radicals. The Youth International Party or YIPPIE'S were hell bent of protesting the Vietnam War. I was on their side and they knew it. Several of Milwaukee's underground YIPPIE radicals lived above the Leather Shop. 

They gave me this iconic flag. I still have it to this day.

An Original YIPPIE Flag - 1968

On the inside of front door at The Leather Shop hung a handmade open and closed sign made out of leather. It was glued and nailed together. Some accents were added by burning a pattern around the letters edges.

The Original Open and Closed Sign for The Leather Shop - 1968 to 1978

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