Passavant & Lee – Ones to Watch
I love coming across brands that have a respect for particular times gone past as well as specialising in unique products. Brands that embrace a history and inform their brand and products with precision and that build an identity.
Passavant and Lee was born out of a desire by two models wanting to creating luxury accessories that suited lifestyle while also creating something unique and not on offer with in the market. Jon Passavant and Benj Lee had the vision of using fine leather, handcrafted in the English tradition and aircraft grade aluminium, precisely honed in the spirit of American engineering. These two materials have sat side by side for a century used in the making of fine watches, automobiles and military aircraft, but never so distinctly, or deliberately in a briefcase or wallet that a gentleman might carry with him daily.
They recently expanded their No.25 briefcase to offering a wider range including luxury portfolios, attaches and cardholders. I managed to take some time to speak with Benj who told me about the trials of setting up the brand and what it took for them to ensure they used the materials that they had their heart set on.
What inspired you to start the brand?
The brand was largely born out of our friendship. We both had ideas and ambitions but it was only when we started collaborating that things really started taking shape.
When we looked at the briefcases that were currently on offer there was a swathe of all leather soft briefcases, then a handful of metal hardshell briefcases, but none that had brought the two materials together. We set out to create something that had the protection of the hard shell aluminium, but the beauty and tactility of the leather. Combining these two materials in a way that they have been for decades in classic cars and aeroplanes, produced something which whilst being new and surprising, was also classic.
Why the choice of materials?
The materials were chosen for their natural attributes. We use airplane grade aluminium for the same reason that it is used on planes, it’s lightweight, strong and resistant to corrosion. The vegetable tanned leather that we use will age beautifully over the life of the product and gives additional protection to the contents of the briefcase. Each briefcase is lined with suede and silk to create a classic and long-lasting interior.
What type of man do you wish to see using your products?
We’ve found that the people who are drawn to our products have an appreciation for high quality craftsmanship and classic design. However, I love that our customers are also risk takers and not afraid to make a bold statement with their accessories. Above all I just want to see people using and enjoying our products, whether that’s a suited gentleman working in The City or an explorer throwing it in the back of his Land Rover.
Are there any individuals who have inspired you through your lives?
My father has always been a huge inspiration. He’s a natural optimist and able to make or fix anything he puts his hands to. I grew up doing a lot of carpentry at his side and it certainly fostered an appreciation of design and a love of working with my hands (as well as working in a team- my two younger brothers were always involved in whatever the project was).
What has inspired your designs and how would you describe your aesthetic?
I’d say a large part of our inspiration flows from our respective and very different roots. The fun part has been finding ways to combine those two- Jon’s classic American heritage and my very British upbringing. This launch collection in my mind does exactly that, bringing together the pioneering American spirit with traditional British craftsmanship.
What are the next steps for the brand – where do you see yourselves and the brand in 3 – 5 years time? Are there plans to expand the range or fine tune what you have and work with other luxury materials?
In the short term we will be deepening the No.25 Collection by adding products to the line and branching into other materials like exotics. We also have our first full leather collection in the pipeline which we are excited about. Beyond accessories we have a vision for footwear and outerwear amongst other things, but will be taking our time to be able to maintain the level of quality we’ve become known for.
What sort of things did you learn or gain from your experience in your modelling careers that helped in starting your own brand? Did being around fashion help drive your interests?
Modelling allowed amazing behind-the-scenes access to areas of design and branding within established fashion houses. We were privileged to work with many of the top creatives in the industry, so just to watch them work, and be involved in that work was both fascinating and inspiring. It certainly stirred our interest and was a training ground to hone our personal style.
I’m guessing that with your careers and now with Passavant & Lee you’ve done a lot of travelling – where have been the best places you’ve been to and why?
Over the years I’ve loved the opportunities to work in some really remote and extreme places. Shooting in Patagonia and Iceland have been highlights contrasting with the lush beauty of Sri Lanka and the Caribbean. I love the water and I’ve been lucky that work has taken me to some of the best places in the world to get wet- from plunging in ice cold lochs in Scotland to the cenotes of Mexico.
And finally, what style tips or advice would you share to any discerning gentleman?
You’ve got to enjoy what you wear, don’t be afraid to break from the pack, and a good pair of shoes or boots is a worthy investment.