Japanese colourist brings patina to Chennai

A Japanese man dressed in a World War II German chef’s jacket — Tetsuya Sato has an easy laugh and deft fingers, and is not quite what I expected when I walked into OAR Atelier Studio for their patina trunk show. As he lines up his pots of dyes, cloth rags and beeswax, he chats about learning the art from its creators, French luxury shoe brand Berluti (a subsidiary of LVMH, where he worked for five years), experimenting at Parisian shoemaker Maison Corthay (who has audaciously used the technique on suede), before starting his own atelier, Brusque House, in Tokyo, three years ago.

A pair of Three Eye Derby is already prepped and on the worktable — the raw crust leather conditioned with creams and highlighted with a few preliminary layers of colour the previous day. “I am inspired by abstract painters like Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol,” he tells me, as he mixes his pigments much like an artist on his palette. Layers of blue go on with a cotton rag, the seams accentuated by black; brushes, dryers, markers and sponges appear as he gradually builds the colour. While the patina can be ‘tortured’ (with colour gradations) or ‘flamed’ (with light streaks), Sato’s speciality is ‘cloudy’ (a smoke-like effect).

The new old

Though relatively new — Olga Berluti created the technique in the 1980s — the word patina is a part of the shoe connoisseur’s lexicon today. Couturier Yves Saint Laurent, it is said, preferred a dark blue-brown, while luxury brands like Ermenegildo Zegna, Bontoni and Gaziano & Girling have been bringing out various options over the years. But are Indians as enamoured? We have heard of Mumbai-based brand SS Homme’s in-house artist and the services offered by online store Achilles’ Heel, but not much else. There are not too many examples locally and certainly no trunk shows, agrees Osman Abdul Razak, whose bespoke store OAR caters to a discerning audience. But he feels, as sartorial individualism gains popularity, such concepts will become de rigueur. “It’s all about personalisation now. Our clients go into the intricacies, from the cut of their suits to the buttons and pocket squares. And shoes are something they’ve been paying a lot of attention to lately,” says the Savile Row-trained gentleman’s tailor.

The trunk show — which will have a second edition later this year, before travelling the country — is a collaboration between Razak and Bridlen shoes. Mohamed Affan, shoemaker-founder of Bridlen, has been supplying Sato’s Tokyo atelier for over a year now. “Till now, those who wanted patina had to travel abroad, Dubai being the closest option,” says Affan, who has been making shoes for the Japanese market for seven years now (unlike Europe, Japan is exciting, he feels, because of the accessibility for the ‘made in India’ tag). “So when Osman talked about a collab, I introduced him to Tetsuya.”

Japanese colourist brings patina to Chennai

An Indian palette

Ten clients have signed up for the experience, including CEOs, lawyers, doctors and a fitness expert who prefers kolhapuris on a regular day but could not resist the beauty of the patina. “Indian customers are looking for experiences now. I’ve had clients say that while the shoe is lovely, they want to see what goes into it and would not mind spending two hours watching Tetsuya work,” adds Affan. Since they were working on a tight deadline, social media was pivotal in spreading the word. Instagram is also where Razak is trying to fuel #DapperDa, a movement that aspires to bring lovers of style together. “The idea is to move towards an atelier where you offer more services, with patina being a start,” he says. Perfumers, groomers and more will follow soon.

By now, Sato has built up the colour, layer by layer. With bespoke patinas, as I am fast learning, it is not just about applying colour, but using it to enhance the shoe’s shape. The Prussian blue gets a final swipe of wax and a spit polish with water. Each shoe can get anywhere between six and 15 layers of colour, he says, adding that it is this handcrafting that makes a difference in this world of mass manufacturing. “Many of my clients in Japan prefer boardroom-ready hues like grey, brown and blue, but I suggest you experiment with fun, lighter colours like greens, purples and yellows,” says Sato, who has coloured bags, luxury car dashboards and even furniture. His next collection for his Indian clientele — where he plans to add products like wallets, business card holders and watch straps — will be inspired by the local markets, bursting with colour. My time is done and the next client is waiting, kolhapuris forgotten for the day. As I take my leave, I make a last request: can we add some women’s shoes, soon?

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 11:09:21 PM |

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