Craftspeople in France: Maroquinier/Leather craftsman

Quality and unique items are focus of leatherwork artisans

26 February 2020
Bertrand Vignes in his workshop, which is just 50m from the shop in Nice where he and his wife Anne sell a range of artisan leather products that she designs
By Selma DADDI

A couple whose artisan leatherwork has taken them to Nice via Madagascar say they take inspiration from everywhere – but they mostly like bohemian vibes.

Anne and Bertrand Vignes started making leather bags and fashion accessories when they were in their twenties.

Mrs Vignes studied at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris, where she met her husband, a bootmaker in the city.

They decided to work together as their skills were well-matched.

Mrs Vignes said: “We had plenty of ideas. My artistic side matched well with his technical knowledge, so we started to work together.”

They took part in various professional events while in Paris and managed to sell their creations worldwide, notably in the US and Japan. 

But after a few years, and the rise of China’s exports to France, they focused on what was most important to them: creating accessories of high quality.

Mrs Vignes draws and designs the models.

Her husband transforms her drawings into reality.

But they do also work on demand – often customers will ask for a unique model in the leather and colour of their choice.

Mrs Vignes said: “People like to have something unique and we always had that vision.

“We like to work in a more ‘artisanal’ way as we can create unique, more exclusive and personalised items.” They make accessories such as belts, purses, wallets, and even necklaces and bracelets.

Some of the many unique leather products designed, made and sold in Nice by artisan couple Anne and Bertrand Vignes

Everything is in leather and the smell of their atelier reflects that.

All their products are made with leather personally selected on regular trips to Milan.

Mrs Vignes said: “The best tanneries are in France or Italy and the most important thing with leather is how it is tanned.”

The materials they use come from foreign farms, notably exotic skins which are mainly from Africa, South America or the US.

Mrs Vignes said: “For the crocodile, for example, there are several categories. We have alligator from the US, we have some from Australia and Africa. They are all different, there are small differences that connoisseurs can distinguish.”

They also use goat leather and more classic materials, but crocodile is the most expensive. A bag made with crocodile leather can cost from €200 to €6,000.

“But if it comes from a big and famous brand, it will cost €15,000-€20,000.” 

For them, what’s most important is to enjoy what they do. Mrs Vignes said: “We have fun and at the same time we work.”

Before launching their workshop in Nice, just 50 metres from their shop in the city’s old town, they lived in Madagascar and worked in a small atelier at the time.

Their years abroad have strongly influenced their own small workshop in Nice.

Madagascar continues to influence what they create every day as Mrs Vignes takes inspiration from ethnic cultures.

They share their passion for leather with their daughter Emma, 22, who worked with them before moving to Portugal to create her own brand.

Mr and Mrs Vignes said it is important to create a brand if you want to last and to have a name in this field. “There are lots of leather shops but you have to be creative and meticulous in this job.”

Atelier Vignes in Nice

Their atelier in Nice was called Atelier du Croco for years, until last year when they renamed it Atelier Vignes to honour their name and work.

To become a maroquinier in France, you can pass a CAP (Certificat d’Aptitude Professionnelle) in maroquinerie, sellerie générale, sellier harn-acheur, or vêtement de peau.

It can be done as an apprenticeship and lasts two years.

After this, you can continue and pass a Bac pro métiers du cuir, option maroquinerie.

If you wish to go further after the bac, you can also follow a BTS course (Brevet de technicien supérieur) – which lasts two years – in métiers de la mode, spécialité chaussure et maroquinerie or industrie des matériaux souples.

Experience is also important so apprenticeships are often recommended to young people.

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