wo things (among MANY) that I learned from my folks were: Be very, very particular about the materials that you use for any product; and don't take on any project without bringing your highest level of focus and integrity to the bench. And so it remains today that the materials used in all our goods is not only the finest that we can obtain, but painstaking care is applied to the laying out process…where the final selection of exactly where on the hide the patterns are located is decided. This care is critical to ensure that not only will each piece perform properly when it leaves our bench, but will continue to do so for many years to come.
Almost exclusively, the leather used in our sandals, belts and bags is vegetable tanned cowhide. In the sandals, the heart of the footwear is the upper sole…the part that we walk on. It's the part that forms to our foot and becomes more and more personalized the more we walk in them. To offer the right amount of support and yet flexibility, we use a very expensive industrial belting leather that is treated with various levels of neatsfoot oil.
The bottom sole of the sandals is greatly responsible for holding the shape of the arch and giving solidity to the sole construction. After cutting, it is soaked in a special water-based solution and hand formed over several days to accommodate the specific shape of the individual foot…then allowed to dry slowly. The leather used for our bottom soles is a prime grade shoemaker's soling leather…the sort one would find on the highest grade of shoes.
The straps of the sandals want to offer both body and suppleness…just enough density so that they don't become floppy or stretchy, but enough flexibility that they easily follow the necessary contours as they hold the sandal securely to the foot. To gain these characteristics we use a slightly oiled domestic bridle leather. We purchase these hides in varying thicknesses and cut each strap to match closely the body and flexibility of the soles.
In sandals that have the extra rubber to the undersole, we use the best on the market: Vibram. It is available in varying thicknesses and selected to add the proper amount of cushion without adding inappropriately to the weight or flexibility.
In the Rilleau Knotted Belts, the leather we use is a bit of a secret, but it is safe to say that they are crafted from the very finest vegetable tanned cowhide that one can find. And the beautiful shoulder bags that we offer are made from the same luscious domestic bridle leather that we use in our sandal strapping.
"FINISHING" is the word used to describe the refinement and polishing of the leather after it is cut. When it came to finishing leather, nobody…and I mean nobody ever worked the material like my mother, Peggy. She would use her array of tools, inks solutions and polishes and highly experienced hands, and when she was done she would have transformed a rough cut piece of strap, belting or sandal sole into a glowing piece of wearable art.
Peggy Rilleau and Kim, 1951.
In the same mold, today the finishing aspect of Rilleau Leather is extremely important. During the 60's there was an approach that a rough cut, crudely finished leather product gave it a look that proclaimed it "handmade", but my folks never ascribed to that notion and felt the contrary: that the fact that their work was handmade from scratch gave opportunity to finish them with great refinement…setting it aside from the machine-made products of the day.
In the finishing process at Rilleau Leather, the edges of the leather are rounded and then darkened with a special ink. Then the straps or belts are wet and hand burnished…hand rubbed and polished . This process is very time consuming but provides a highly refined and yet natural finish. If you look closely at the photos in some of the product files you will get an idea of the results.