My good friend Prof. Massi once came to a black tie event with a beautiful clutch bag...shown above...in midnight blue crocodile skin. The design is at once arresting and beautiful. The skin of the crocodile is superb...as superior as any I have seen from the houses of Hermes.
When questioned, he beamed, and said the model is hand made by a friend of his...Ethan Koh, a homegrown bag designer, and promised to make the introduction so I can do this article on him.
I met up with Ethan later...and discovered that he is one of the sons of the founding family for one of Singapore's largest suppliers of crocodile skins - Heng Long. He is a young chap...all 23 years old, but already runs his own company based in London, and is one of the secret supplier of style bags (note, not fashion...but more later) to the beautiful.
Massi opening his bag...to show the scale of the purse. Also, this is the bottom of the bag, showing the additional handle to slip his fingers into while holding the bag as a clutch. Picture supplied by Ethan K.
His bags are interesting. Begining with the Massi...named after my friend. This particular design is smallish, and stylish enough for a man to use for evening, but also to be shared with his wife Francessca. It features a small handle at the bottom, so it can be used as a clutch.
The finishing is quite nice indeed. The workmanship, impeccable - appropriate use of hand stitching and machine stitching in areas where it matters...hand work for refinement and delicate areas, and machine stitching for strength. Note the picture below is a finishing method known as "bombe". Used in antique furniture, the French word describes a bending, or buldging of the wood verneer which is a result of painstaking steaming and bending of the wood. Appled to leather, the technique is done by polishing the skin with agate stone on a glazing machine, the effect is similar...glimmering in the light, the shape is a bold, but beautiful and graceful buldge at the side of the bag.
Ethan tells me he uses only skins from the C. Niloticus, C. Porosus and the Aligator mississippiensis (Louisiana Aligator) - which he considers to be the best skins.
Above is the tanned skin, made orange of a C. Niloticus. Note the regular and squarish scales on the belly. For a high end bag, this is the only part which is used. One bag frequently needing 2 or sometimes 3 skins. Ethan makes his bag with one piece of skin wrapping the front of the bag, so there are no unsightly joints on the front or the back.
Before dying, the aligator skin is somewhat a grey, white hue:
The A. Caiman (Cayman aligator) represents the lower catagory of skins. What makes the Niloticus, Porusus and Louisiana more expensive?. It is of course, the beauty of the skin which justifies the catagorization - the ability to take a high shine, the even-ness of the scales, and the longevity of the skin after it is tanned and made into products. And, of course, the size.
To make a bag, the skins needed are about 36 to 38 inches wide at the belly. It takes the Niloticus 6 to 8 years to grow to this size. Because crocs are violent creatures, tending to fight with each other, the best crocodiles are kept in isolation in single pens to prevent fighting. Whereas the regular crop of Thai Caymans will reach the needed size in about 1-2 years, and are usually kept 50 in a large enclosure. This leads to marred skins, but a much lower production cost.
Ethan's customers are mainly ladies who have come through the entire spectrum of bags...from loud and bold designs by LV, to the quiet and dignified Hermes as personified by their Kelly and Birkin range. And finally into the bespoke services offered by Ethan. Interestingly, Ethan sees himself to provide bags which are timeless and stylish, and will not bow to the demands of fashion which change every so often.
Here are two of his, perhaps more fashionable ladies bags...discrete, quiet, very well made, and superb in design.