Volynka: The Resurgence of Russian Leather Craftsmanship
Rediscovering Russian Leather
Once the epitome of elegance in 1920s Paris, Russian leather was more than a fragrance; it was a cherished emblem of White Russians fleeing a changing world. From perfumes to the robust hides for soldiers' boots, it captivated hearts with its virile allure. Legend has it that "yufte," another name for Russian leather, originated when a Cossack waterproofed his boots with birch bark. Beyond its utilitarian origins, Russian leather adorned book bindings and carriage interiors, a testament to its timeless appeal.
Sophie Mouquin aptly describes these talismans, noting that they "exude a mixture of lapsang souchong, cigar, and peat-rich whiskey, the unique odor that is its signature." Imperial Russia prized it as a commodity, but the October Revolution drowned out its secrets, causing the imperial leather to shed its skin.
A Sea-Rescued Heritage
The resurrection of Russian leather took an unexpected turn in the early 1970s on the English Channel. Divers, exploring the depths off the Cornish coast, unveiled the treasure trove of a sunken two-master, the Metta Catharina. Originating from Saint Petersburg, it carried hemp and Russian leather bound for Genoa but succumbed to a storm in 1786. Miraculously preserved by the sea, these rolls of leather, retrieved in the 1990s by Hermès, served as the foundation for iconic Sac à dépêches and Kelly bags.
The journey didn't end there. In 2011, a dedicated working group embarked on a mission to unravel the secrets of Russian leather. The investigation, spanning six years, brought together meticulous artisans in an English town where ancient techniques have been honed since Roman times. Oak bark, gathered by the barrowful, and hand-plucked skins undergo a transformative process: lime and freshwater baths, five months of soaking in a secret tree-bark solution, and a final touch with a mysterious oil derived from birch and other plants.
Crafting Volynka: A Symphony of Time and Technique
Volynka leather, now gracing bags like Bolide voyage, Haut à courroies, Plume voyage, and a Ulysse notebook cover, embodies the culmination of this meticulous craftsmanship. The tanning process, akin to aging fine wine, is a testament to the artisans' dedication. As they say, "The secret of good tanning is a bit like making a good cup of tea," allowing time to work its magic.
The result is a collection of talismans with an aroma that is both smoky and woody, powerful and incomparable. Volynka stands as a tribute to the timeless allure of Russian leather, revived through a journey of rediscovery, craftsmanship, and dedication to preserving a rich heritage.