Article and Interview by Daen Palma Huse
Photography by Viktor Gårdsäter
Artistic Direction by Johanna Lees
Styling by Rebecca Paguia
Model Calle Strand @Next
Jon Passavant and Benj Lee have appeared on the fashion horizon more than a decade ago – not as the design duo that they are known as now but as top male models for international brands. Taking from their respective America and British style heritage as well as their experience within the fashion world, Jon and Benj created one of the finest design brands to appear in recent years.
Contrary to the hold-all man bag or sporty weekender that has been seen on the streets from London to New York, Passavant and Lee have so far concentrated first and foremost on an inherently traditional product: the briefcase. In a cross-Atlantic collaboration they have created luxurious leather and light aluminium products, every one with its own characteristic and is sure to be a companion of its wearer for many years.
After having shown at fashion weeks across the two continents, we are anticipating the next collection which sounds as promising as the typical No. 25 Passavant and Lee briefcase is iconic. We talked with co-founder Benj about the brand, its future and what lies at the heart of the signature Passavant and Lee luxury leather and aluminium goods; originality, impeccable quality, durability and timeless style – something which we love at The Protagonist Magazine.
Who is the man (or woman!) that would love your products? What is your ‘ideal customer’?
We’ve found that the people who are drawn to our products have a real appreciation for high quality craftsmanship and classic design. However, I love that our customers are also risk takers and are not afraid to make a bold statement with their accessories.
Have you always been interested in creating your own product and design or was your idea to create the ‘perfect’ briefcase that so far no one offered on the marketplace?
In a market that is flooded with so many similar products, it has been great to launch the brand with something that stands out from the crowd. Excellence in design is a really significant aspect of the brand so whilst the No. 25 Briefcase was the starting point for the brand, we are hugely excited about the expansion of the collection.
What was your inspiration? Combining leather with metal as done by car and airplane manufacturers, have you always been fascinated by the luxurious combination of the materials?
The combination of these two materials sums up the heritages of Jon and myself in many ways. The aluminium representing the pioneering spirit of aviation in America; an aesthetic that speaks of classic designs as well as modern technology. The leather element harks back to the traditional briefcases that I grew up seeing my grandfather carrying into work in the City of London. Leather and aluminium are two timeless materials that will age beautifully as well as being a visually pleasing combination.
How much time has gone into creating the prototype of your classic No. 25 Passavant & Lee briefcase?
We poured a lot of time and effort into making our inaugural product just right; getting the correct form, strength and weight of the aluminium shell was painstaking work. It was a challenging but enjoyable process, working with dozens of different engineers and craftsmen – we’ve learnt so much about both leatherwork and metalwork along the way – but ultimately it is very rewarding to look at what we have achieved.
How did you find the Californian airplane factory that you are using for the production of the aluminium shells? Was it easy when proposing the product or did you spend quite some time finding the right factory and the right people to work with?
It was anything but easy finding the right people to work with on this! One of the big barriers was that normally where metal stamping is concerned, it only becomes possible/affordable when the number of units get incredibly high (as in the auto industry), however we were only wanting to do small production runs due to the high-end and exclusive nature of the products. The team out in California is incredible – they’ve caught our vision for this product and we’ve enjoyed working together to make it happen.
Why did you decide to source your leather in the US as well rather than the UK?
We sourced the leather on the merit of it’s characteristics. Working with a family run, heritage tannery like Horween not only gets the best results, but is also in line with the values and craftsmanship that we want to support. We will certainly be sourcing British tanned leather for future product lines where its characteristics lend itself to the purpose.
You both have modeled around the world – what do you take from that career into your business?
So many of the experiences we had whilst modeling have fed perfectly into what we are now doing. We were so lucky to work with many of the top creatives in the industry and get a behind the scenes look at a lot of the great fashion houses. It definitely was a time that honed our appreciation for quality design where we gained a truly global perspective on the fashion world.
A Passavant & Lee briefcase seems like a briefcase that is for life. How durable is it and is that your aim? Do you think your products are very different in that regard even in comparison to other luxury brands?
A Passavant and Lee briefcase is designed to be as strong as it is beautiful. Everything from the position of each rivet to the specific materials chosen for each part is calculated to create a briefcase that can stand the test of time. They are made from materials that will age beautifully and lend more and more character to the bag over years of use.
Do you use the briefcase daily yourself? If not, when do you use it? Do you find it practical to carry a small bottle of water inside as well or do you prefer carrying a second bag for things like that? (I have in fact always wondered about that!)
During a normal working week I’ll use a briefcase, however, when I’m traveling I will use the attaché, as it is more versatile with its shoulder strap. If I’m just popping out for a couple of meetings I’ll normally take the portfolio and only take the things I really need. Whilst each product hold a surprisingly large quantity, we specifically designed them all with a capacity limited to just the essentials – we wanted to move away from the over-stuffed man bag which can end up being a catch-all.
Are you planning on new lines? Or do you prefer tweaking your classic product and changing little details to create new variations?
We’ve got big plans for the coming year, which include a collection of all leather products as well as a number of developments throughout our metal and leather No. 25 Collection.
Is there a new colour palette you have in mind or different types of print or leather or will you stick to a very classical look?
There will always be a classical element to our collections, but that certainly doesn’t prevent us delving into new leather types and textures as well as exploring whole new colour palettes. We are just as excited about innovation as we are about preserving the classic feel of our launch collection.