In her studio in that Bay View warehouse, incense wafts through the room and mingles with the intoxicating scent of newly tanned leather. Sewing machines sit idle and leather purses hang from metal, tree-like racks, their branches reaching out to offer leather-covered handshakes. It’s all extremely calming, especially if you can appreciate a well-made handbag – one that could be made with locally tanned Seidel leather to boot. This is Heather Hambrecht’s kingdom, though it will soon expand to Evanston, Ill. For now, Milwaukee will remain her “place of creation” from which these purses and sizeless leather apparel spring forth. For a time, she styled makeup and wigs for the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., but now, she fills her days helping to run an artists’ collective called Shampoo Horn Studios, and hand-stitches her wares, which are made in leather so smooth you’d think they were polished with butter. Why leather? “It’s an extension of life,” she says.
Some of these creations – coin purses, clutches – are printed with “abstract poetic words” that, according to Hambrecht, reveal “hidden treasures and beauty” for their owners. The hardware affixed to each is adjustable, and her larger purses are designed with wide shoulder straps for comfort. Many of her items have exterior seams, she says, as a nod to the “thought process of what the piece will become.” Hambrecht speaks of the purses, and the thoughtful intent infused into each, as if she’s relaying a closely guarded secret. But these beautiful secrets are much closer than you think.