Divina Deneuvo duo, Victoria and Dave, create bags and accessories by hand from upcycled materials. Their items are one-of-a-kind, each having some sort of backstory to them. After spending an awkward amount of time fawning over the bags, other leather goods, and jewelry*, I knew I had to share them with you lovely folk. Meet Victoria & Dave.
What was life like before Divina Deneuvo? How did you and Dave meet?
VR: I was born in Argentina, immigrated to Vancouver in ‘89. After high school, I was afforded the opportunity to study in Scotland, in the oldest university in the country, University of St. Andrews, and lived in what I can only describe as a fairytale castle (complete with turrets and a tower!). I loved every moment of walking through the cobbled streets and stone buildings, wondering who was there before me. I studied English Literature and have a profound love for Shakespeare and what I imagine “Old England” was like; and I collect strange things like antique wax seals, thimbles, and all sorts of opulent oddities. I have what I like to call “artistic ADHD” in so much that I am, and have always been, creating. In addition to designing for Divina Denuevo, I also do all the product photography, web design, graphic design (business cards, posters, etc), staging and booth display. I also have a jewelry line that focuses on the same values as Divina Denuevo, often repurposing the hardware you see on the bags into jewelry (Pieces of II *). I am also a photography nut and take pictures wherever I go. Dave and I met while working at the same company, my alter ego is in communications and marketing, and Dave was the hardware integration manager at the same company.
DK: I grew up in a smaller community in Northern British Columbia and moved to the Lower Mainland to attend SFU and study Psychology. I work full time as a Manager at a Point of Sale Company and on evenings and weekends I work mainly on the behind the scenes activities at Divina Denuevo, including pricing, inventory, troubleshooting and dabble in the design world focusing mostly on Cuffs, Straps and some larger bags. I had been looking for a creative outlet and when Victoria had mentioned that she was preparing for a craft market and was short on time, I offered to help her prepare for the show and have been hooked ever since. The upcycling and attention to the environment was also a big draw for me.
How did you get into leatherwork / upcycling / creating Divina Deneuvo?
VR: I’ve been passionate about sustainability and eco-consciousness since I was 16. I shop local as much as possible, check the carbon footprint of my groceries, try and eliminate the use of plastic in my household, and use my purchasing power to encourage the organic food industry.
Before leather, I was sewing making fabric bags in an effort to carry something unique in a society where most people are wearing something mass-produced. I hated walking down the street and seeing someone carrying the same thing as me. When our clothing is an outward expression of our personality, why would we want to spend any of that space looking the same as someone else? I was tired of hanging someone else’s logo on my shoulder.
When I came upon my first piece of leather, I was intrigued – the rustic look and raw edges looked like they belonged as a bag. My love for all things ‘old-world’ led me to collecting skeleton keys and I couldn’t stand the thought of these beautiful pieces being thrown away or cast aside out of redundancy. I don’t know why – but to me, leather and metal seemed to go together. The shiny glints of hardware on the rich leather makes a perfect juxtaposition, and the second I held a key against the piece of leather I had bought to play with, I knew that I loved it. From there, I started looking at anything that was old hardware that might end up in a landfill: doorknobs, cabinet handles, keyplates, hinges – It became my mission to find anything that I could save, repurpose, and make beautiful again.
Where does the inspiration come from?
VR: I am drawn to antiquities and the opulence of the past. I seem to always seek out anything that seems ‘old world’ and that incites a romantic mystery like the kind you associate with Old England. From that, I draw my inspiration. More often than not, I create the leather around the adornment: when I find a particular treasure, I design the piece to suit it perfectly. In terms of the shapes of the bags – that is something quite organic: I try very hard to not waste leather, so I use the raw edges of the hide in the design: it’s those edges that give the bags that ‘rustic’ look, and make most of the pieces one-of-a-kind. The shapes that the hides naturally come in are often far more interesting than anything I could dream up and cut!
DK: Inspired by anything, nature, anything vintage or antique. I would describe our aesthetic as rustic, rugged with a romantic twist.
What is your design process?
VR: I tend to make more of the purses/bags, and Dave makes more of the belts and cuffs, though he often will help with the design of a bag by providing feedback and brainstorming. We get along surprisingly well and rarely have a disagreement – usually if we have creative differences, it’s because we’re looking at a potential piece with different uses in mind. The way we work best is when we both start creating, and ask each other what the other thinks about a design as it’s in progress: this ends up with an impressive evolution and we come out of it with designs that we love and couldn’t have come up with without the other.
As for the actual process – it varies from piece to piece: some bags are finished in my head before they’re even started. Others are a painstaking process of trial and error, prototyping and laying out, sewing and unsewing. The ones that are a breeze usually start with us laying the hide on the floor and looking at the shapes of the sides. When we see something there, we get a rush of inspiration, cut it out and get to work on sewing. Then we spill out our box of treasures and hold different pieces up to the bag, seeing which adornment of hardware looks the best. Other times, we design the bag around a specific piece of hardware – as we often find amazingly cool pieces that inspire us. The more difficult bags usually start with little to no direction, just a rough idea in our heads of what we want to do (like the duffle bag we debuted at Eco Fashion Week – that bag took 3 days to make). We constantly hold the pieces of leather in the places we think they should go, and when we’re happy with the shape, we sew, or rivet into place.
How important is it for you to try to convey the story of the details you're adding?
VR: So Important! The whole idea behind our line is that you’re carrying a piece of the past – like a time machine. Every item has a story, unique and arguably what makes the piece enchanting. We struggled to come up with a way to convey the story: at shows it was easy, we could simply tell someone – “the key on that purse came from a shipwreck.” and dive into how we found the key and where it’s been; but when we started to sell in stores we saw that people thought our hardware was replicas and new. We hated that, it completely defeated the purpose behind our line – so we came up with a solution. Now all of our bags have a label inside that tells you a little bit about the hardware that’s adorning your piece. Some, we know the story of, and they’ll say something like “The antique key on this bag came from a shipwreck off the coast of France in the late 1800’s” – others, which we don’t know much about, will simply say “This antique hardware was rescued from a landfill.”
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Images from Divina Deneuvo.