Mark Tallowin’s journey to becoming a designer of luxury leather goods is far from ordinary. Living in the desert of west Texas, one day he found himself fashioning a knife from a chunk of railway track. Of course all good knifes need a hand-stitched leather sheath, and from there a love affair began.
After locking himself away in what he described as “self imposed cave” for a year, studying, he collected his designs and boldly took them to one of the most respected ateliers. Tallowin understood that he needed to get as much advice from those in the know to really create something worthy of an industry one could describe as oversaturated.
To make sure every inch of his creations are practical, just as much as they are beautiful, Tallowin conducted what he called his 4.4.8. Experiment. After designing and creating four prototypes, he handed over the handbags to Jess Cartner-Morley of The Guardian, Camilla Johnson-Hill of The Production Club, Illustrator Extraordinaire Jo Ratcliffe and one other woman (who had to remain anonymous for mysterious reasons). The bag would be theirs for a week, to use as they wish and at the end of those seven days, they would pass it along to whom they saw fit. Each of the four bags passed through the hands of eight people, and the experiment lasted eight weeks: hence the name. “It was good to let them free after a year of keeping them so close to my heart. Putting them into the world and being like, here it goes.” The feedback from each host was invaluable and held advice he would never had been able to attain otherwise. The best advice he received? “Well the best thing was that it jumped the gender divide at one point, which I was completely not expecting. The largest [bag], went to Mr J Ashton from Dover Street market, who carried it off in style.”
With The Core Collection of just five handbags (and The Carta Collection of five wallets), it’s obvious we’re looking at the work of a perfectionist. Each with it’s own apt name, Splitwedge, Flatiron, Kettlebell, Nightjar, Inkwell; the bags are expertly crafted from vegetable tanned Italian leather, hand-stitched and taking over a week to create just one. And then there’s the discreet personalisation. Each piece is custom ordered, numbered and it’s owners-to-be name is written on a little vellum note, hidden in the bags lining. Every way in which to make them special, Tallowin has it covered.
Recently setting up shop in London’s Fitzrovia, with an oak work-desk by the window, the space perfectly reflects his craftsmanship: Blank walls – except for the handbags – and a beautiful wooden storage cabinet in the center. “I never expected to be a shopkeeper – it’s quite strange, but it feels good.” What you will notice, when walking into 4 Windmill Street is the bold print on the wall. This silk screen is the first in Tallowin’s Edition Project and is a design for a flag, conceived of by George Selwyn-Brace. At the turn of each solstice and equinox a new limited edition print, designed by a different collaborator will be released. This illuminates the fact that this designer works to a different sort of season; autumn/winter and spring/summer just won’t cut it here. “I’m torn between the fashion and the craft,” states Mark. “Perhaps I’m too crafty for fashion and too close to fashion for craft.” He prefers to be a pure craftsman that doesn’t enter into that specific fashion discourse.
When asking about the women who have bought the bags, Mark states: “It tends to be women who buy for themselves, which I think is a good sign… It feels like there’s a good strong sense of independence and purposefulness.” With that, we may have the next iconic, ‘power woman’ bag collection on our hands. But of course, this club is for those who want something a little more unique.
Tallowin is located at 4 Windmill Street, Fitzrovia, London W1T 2HZ