This week Brighton Journal spoke to Renata Koch, local artist and founder of Renush. Renush specialise in leather accessories including jewellery, handbags and belts. Using mainly vegetable tan leather, Renata handcrafts her products by combining traditional moulding techniques with contemporary design. She studied Footwear and Accessories Design at the London College of Fashion, and is now based at her studio in Hove. We discussed Renata’s inspirations, Renush’s feature in Vogue and its new line of reusable facemasks. Take a look at Renata’s unique designs.
What are you doing today?
I’m working on a moulded leather corset belt. During my college years I became interested in the traditional technique of moulding, which combined with vegetable tan leather provides endless possibilities for manipulating and sculpting the hide into different shapes. I try to keep this very old technique alive and relevant by combining it with contemporary designs.
It is a very labour-intensive manual method, which involves softening the hide in water and stretching it before it is sculpted onto to a cast to achieve the shape of the design. Once dried, it will permanently retain the desired shape. Only vegetable tanned leather, free from artificial chemicals and metal, can be used.
This method of construction produces a corset that hugs and subtly accentuates the wearer’s figure without using any seems on the piece.
Describe where you do most of your creative work.
My studio is in my home in Hove, which is very convenient if inspiration comes to me in the middle of the night.
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve worked on?
My leather shoulder piece was featured in Vogue worn by Kate Moss.
What made you decide to become an artist?
Since I was a young girl I was happiest spending my spare time drawing, designing and making clothes for my toys and then later making clothes for myself. My mum, a hobby seamstress, taught me to sew, knit and embroider, and I’ve always been interested of the construction and process of making footwear and handbags. I graduated in Footwear and Accessories Design at the London College of Fashion.
What are you currently working on?
Apart from working on the corset belt I have a range of other commissions to fulfil at the moment.
I’ve also introduced a new line of products this year using cotton and non-woven polypropylene to make re-usable facemasks.
Early on during lockdown facemasks were not easy to come by, and because single-use surgical masks are not environmental friendly I wanted to design and make washable, re-usable cotton masks with filters. I follow the World Health Organisation’s recommendations in the construction of my masks and am selling them in various colours and sizes in my shop at https://renush.etsy.com.
What are the key themes in your work?
The main theme in my work is the combination of ancient techniques with modern, usable design. I always design and make pieces which I would wear or use myself. Renush leather accessories contains contemporary handmade, corset belts, jewellery, small leather goods, cable tidies and handbags. Inspired by the lovely pets around in nearby parks I recently introduced a collection of Dog accessories. All items can be personalized with the pet name engraved in the leather collar or leash.
What would you like people to notice about your work?
I hope people will see quality and craftsmanship with a contemporary approach in my work.
What attracts you to the medium you work in?
My main material is vegetable tanned leather. Only leather produced using this ancient process has the flexibility and durability I need for my designs. It’s a beautiful, versatile material to work with, and I make the absolute maximum use of every hide – there is no wastage as all off-cuts are saved and used in other pieces.
What equipment could you not do without?
My fantastic industrial leather sewing machine. I acquired it during my college years through a friend for a fraction of its market price. Without this machine I could never have set up my own business so early on.
Who or what inspires you?
My inspiration comes from a broad range of sources: art history, architecture, fine art and design, folk art, fashion, theatre, movies and traveling provide an endless source of ideas to inform my work.
How is your work affected by living in this area?
Brighton and Hove, and the wider Sussex area, has wonderful local artists and craft people. Seeing their works is a constant inspiration and makes me strive to be more creative.
What’s your favourite thing to do locally?
I love swimming in the sea and walking on Hove beach at low tide. Also walking in the Downs and near countryside relaxes me and gives me ideas for my new designs.
What’s your favourite gallery (or place to see/experience art)?
I love architecture, art and art history. In the UK my favourite galleries are Tate Modern and the V&A.
If you could collaborate with one artist, from any time, who would it be and why?
I would have loved to collaborate with Alexander McQueen. His innovative approach to design and materials is an inspiration.
What’s your favourite colour?