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Designer Dialogue: Kitty Nguyen of Hayden Leather

September 01 2015


Kitty from Hayden Leather

According to Kitty Nguyen, when it comes to character, all the digital devices in the world can't compete with the personality of paper. And given that Nguyen leads a family-run bookbindery-turned-leather accessory label, it's no surprise that she stays fiercely devoted to stationery. Hayden Leather's loyal customers, mind you, are endlessly thankful that she does.

We sat down with Kitty to learn more about her passion for print, the perseverance of paper in our Apple-infested age, and, last but not least, why you won't find the color black in any upcoming Hayden Leather collections.

How did Hayden Leather come to be and where does the name come from?

Hayden was hatched to address a perceived void—a refined American artisan product—in the men’s accessories market.

Currently, fine leather products made in America have made some noise, but they tend to have a rough hewn sensibility—what I like to describe as “made-in-a-barn” by an earnest craftsman. We wanted to be less “cowboy” and more “Swiss watch”. A quiet, refined luxury that you favor more each day as you use it.

Our factory is a second generation, family-run workshop. It began in 1977 as a leather bookbindery. Hayden is a family name, dating back to their arrival in the Americas in 1630.

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What defines your line and your customer?

We wanted to make products that age with character and grace, becoming tools we love and rely upon. The goal was to craft products that had a tailored, modern sensibility combined with function and beautiful materials.

Our guy is clever, well-read and aware, but not trendy. He understands the difference between style and fashion and can totally rock a tweed jacket. He knows the right color when he sees it. He is interested in quality and construction because he uses things forever. He takes notes on paper and texts when he is running late. He is polite!

How are your agendas/journals made?

Because we began as bookbinders, we take our journals fairly seriously. All of our journals (and agendas) are Smyth-sewn. The pages of the book are first folded into separate groups and then stitched with binder thread through the folds. This creates a strong book block that will be further reinforced using fabric and glue on the spine. In contrast to other book-making methods, Smyth-sewn books are more durable, have wide margins and can open completely flat. Our pages are acid-free with a guilded edge. We also sew in a handy ribbon page marker.

Lastly, we cover our journals and agendas in Italian vegetable tanned leather. Every component ensures that the books will age beautifully. There is also the option of embossing our product with your initials, name, or even a personal message—to render it completely yours.

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Why do you think people gravitate to Hayden's stationary products in this digital age?

I don’t think anything will ever replace the paper experience. There is something about jotting things down. It is physical. It is committed. You can flip back through the year(s) and recollect. Look at the notes in the margin, the scratch outs, the food or coffee stains. The doodles. The ticket stubs or flora you stuck inside. You cannot do that with a tech device.

I have a daughter of the millennial generation. She recently started using an agenda!
I LOVE my technology. It reminds me of things I need to do and provides cool instant gratification. But it lacks charm.

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What inspirers you?

I am inspired by just about everything. It’s all about the lens we see things through. I am a curious person and love to learn new things. I guess you can just say that I am nosy! A change of scenery is always inspiring. Therefore traveling, people-watching, a good story, and a thoughtful person can all get my mind racing.

Probably most inspiring to me is the marriage of form and function. It needn’t be high brow and it can be found anywhere. From that perfectly balanced spatula I use every day in my kitchen to a stunning Richard Neutra house. Intelligent and beautiful is a lethal combination for me.

You create leather goods geared largely towards men. As a woman, how did you end up specializing in men's accessories? Do you gravitate towards men's fashion, personally?

I was lucky to land in menswear early in my career, purely by happenstance. I definitely gravitate towards menswear and all its trimmings. My father was a diplomat and dressed as a gentleman—very correct! He was not a dandy, just pretty well-turned out. I was the only girl with three older brothers, so I was very accustomed to being around their stuff and their behavior.

I enjoy menswear because of its tradition and history, the context and the etiquette. I find it entails quite a bit of sociology as well. How men shop and what goes into their decision to purchase—it’s fascinating, really. Product information is very important to many men.

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How would you describe your personal style?

It should not surprise you that most of my closet could form the foundation of a man’s wardrobe. For example, I am passionate about having the perfect trouser, poplin shirt (single-needle construction), and jacket (no fusing!). I really admire good tailoring. And I own more brogues than my husband. But, I also like a pretty dress. I guess if I had to describe my inclination, it would be “slightly butchy, but hopefully cute”.

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What famous person would you most love to see with a Hayden journal?

David Brooks. Jon Stewart. Michio Kaku. Any half of the Obama couple.

What's your biggest pet peeve when it comes to fashion?

The fashion victims. Those who don’t have an opinion and just blindly follow.

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What's one thing your customers would be surprised to learn about you and about your brand?

I try to avoid using the color black in any men’s collection. It seems counterintuitive, I know (and possibly counter commerce—black sells!), but black is historically not a color in menswear. I don’t believe it became prevalent until the early 1980’s. Previous to that there was navy, gray or brown. Black was reserved for funerals.

To my eyes, black seems out of place, almost “wrong”. So you will not find any black in the Hayden Leather collection (the only exception is our Little Black Book, for obvious reasons). Therefore, midnight navy is our black. I find it to be richer and more gentlemanly.

Shop Hayden Leather at Roztayger.com HERE.

All best,
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