If the Alpha Cruxis (say it kru-cis) is the brightest star of the Southern Cross constellation, then it is not surprising that Berlin based designer Rebecca Martin used such a sharp, luminous reference point as the namesake for her ongoing design project. Her debut handbag collection "Geometry" released under the label features five cleanly executed leather pieces that evince an unwavering commitment to form, process and mathematical precision. With an aesthetic located somewhere between industrial architecture and abstract sculpture, each geometrically informed handbag is striking in its subtlety. Rebecca Martin was kind enough to let METAL scope out her charming Neukolln studio and shed some light on the dimensions of this promising and unique addition to the growing number of young, independent Berlin based labels.
I think I’m right in saying Rebecca that you, Cheyenne the photographer and I are all Australian ex-pats – which is perhaps unremarkable given we are in Berlin! Can you tell us a little about how you came to relocate to Berlin, and your background in fashion design?
I was born in Tasmania and grew up in Tassie, Inverloch and Warrnambool – so, country girl. All the places where I grew up were really beautiful, small rural areas but I was definitely craving something else, something more exciting. Berlin however was not planned. I spent ten years in Melbourne, and after graduating from RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute for Technology) in 2010 with a Bachelor of Design I left Australia and interned at Barbara i Gongini in Copenhagen. I planned to do more internships, move to London and look for work – but I visited Berlin in the summer of 2011 and like lots of people I planned to visit for two weeks, stayed for two months, loved it, and decided to stay. It felt to me like the best place to be. I’m super happy living and working from here and plan to stay for a long time.
How have other fields of design, such as architecture, influenced your current collection?
Well I do find inspiration in geometric, architectural structures, but it’s more so everyday objects that filter in through my daily experiences, and I think that’s reflected in the look book. I tend to have a very micro view of things. Sometimes when I’m taking pictures I’ll take very close up shots of things and often it’s some small detail or edge or angle of some everyday object that someone else might not think twice about. I think that’s what really feeds my creativity.
Your designs appear at first to be unquestionably feminine and strong. Items such as the pyramidal coin purse hint at a unisex dimension; was this intentional?
Well no, not necessarily, but I’m really happy that I’ve had guys interested in the collection and wanting to buy pieces. I absolutely love that and I’ll definitely be designing more unisex pieces in the future.
When and where did your love for the tradition of leather craftsmanship develop?
As a graduate student at University, I mean, all through my studies, I loved working with leather, but in my final year I started working with 3mm thick vegetable tanned leather. I’m a self-taught leather worker and through testing the different techniques I developed a love for precise, detailed works. It seemed like a material and technique that really suited me. The first bags that I made were part of an exhibition and two of those bags are in this collection and of course I developed it further.
Alpha Cruxis seems to be following the return over the last decade to traditionally producing quality, timeless pieces as opposed to mass-produced, disposable products. Do you see this as an important shift?
I think it’s fantastic that more people are aware of where and how products are being made. It can only be a positive thing if more designers are working this way, people are becoming aware and I think that’s great.
Your designs have been kept clean and minimal, but I would imagine this aesthetic masks quite a complex and involved process?
Yes absolutely. There are somewhere between 20-25 processes that go into making the bags. Some of them are quite strenuous (laughs) I have to have very strong hands. There are a lot of processes you wouldn’t imagine would go into these bags. Like sanding – that’s perhaps not something you would associate so much with leather. I like those processes which seem closer to carpentry than fashion, when it is about precise angles, carving, sanding; that kinds of techniques.
What specifically distinguishes Alpha Cruxis as a ‘design project’?
When I started Alpha Cruxis I wasn’t sure of what direction it would go. I had always planned on doing more collections, but I also would like to use it as a platform to do collaborations and work on other pieces that aren’t necessarily handbags. I’m currently working with the photographer who did the look book shoot and I really enjoy doing still life styling. I’ve also done some leather body pieces in the past and I’d like to return to that. So I didn’t want to limit it to being just one thing, I wanted to make it a broader project. I am however increasingly referring to it as a label.
How important do you think it is that independent designers remain current without becoming slaves to the demands of the consumer?
I think it will be something I will have to balance. I’ve been designing and producing in a somewhat selfish way – I do this because I love it. Of course I have to keep potential customers in mind, I think that’s important, but I think it’s more important that you are true to yourself and your aesthetic and the reasons you went into the design industry. I think the biggest thing you have to learn is to trust yourself and trust your gut.
And what can we expect from the future of Alpha Cruxis?
I’m starting to work on the new collection now, I’m thinking of adding a little color in terms of details. I think the aesthetic of the GEOMETRY collection is so strong and central to Alpha Cruxis that it will continue to inform future projects in some way or another, but it will be interesting to see how it evolves.