(NEW YORK) Chic new line alert! Meet Esteban Saba and Petra Brichnacova, the couple behind håndværk, the basics-driven, meticulously sourced label. Saba filled us in on how the married duo balances their relationship and burgeoning business. Get ready to clear some shelf space for the brand’s slew of pitch-perfect underpinnings, luxe yet pared-down knits, and much more…
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
How did you two meet? Did the business or the marriage come first?
Petra and I met in Southampton during the summer of 2010. I saw her for the fist time at the local cheese shop, and we were both grabbing breakfast on the run. A couple of weekends later I saw her again walking on Main Street, and mustered up my courage to talk to her. I said something about the great weather—very smooth!—and she replied “Do I know you?”. And not in a friendly tone. We got married in Southampton less then a year later.
Do you and Petra have any roots in the industry?
My family has been in the textile business for close to a century, mostly in Peru, focused on yarn and fabric manufacturing. They’ve been influential in the Peruvian garment district. Also, my mother ran a small luxury knitting company for three decades, making high-quality custom made pieces. Her business was the main topic of conversation at our house. I always had a passion for amazing fabrics; you can say it is part of my DNA. Petra studied textile and surface design at FIT and also specialized in textiles in her studies in Prague, prior to moving to the U.S. We have a deep knowledge base in textiles, and have a solid network of partners we collaborate with and who are instrumental in the execution of our vision. Some of our relationships with these partners extend over multiple decades.
How did håndværk come about?
We wanted to create a label that focused exclusively on the basics—timeless classics, produced with the highest quality possible. The high end of the market has moved away from conspicuous consumption and flashy logos. True connoisseurs are searching for quality craftsmanship, products that are made the right way (not mass produced) with the finest natural materials; pieces that you “invest in”. In the basics category specifically, there’s a lot of what we call the “fast food” players—that try to cater to a specific identities, such as “East coast preppy” or “California cool”. We approach things from a different perspective.
What POV is that?
A “farm to table” approach, where the final product is defined by the quality of the materials and how these are processed.
How long had the idea been percolating?
In early 2012. We quit our day jobs later that year to focus exclusively on our label; it took us almost two years to launch. We got rid of our apartment in Tribeca to reduce our overhead, and worked mostly from our place in Southampton until launch. The idea of håndværk was on the back burner for close to a decade.
Why didn’t you kick off the line earlier, then?
My energy and time were monopolized by investment banking. Petra also had something similar in mind. She has this amazing “lets go for it” attitude that made this project top of mind for us. Also, our skill sets are truly complementary; she naturally assumed the role of creative director. She is a true artist. I’m tasked with the execution, as well as running the day to day business.
Why give the brand a Danish name?
Although we launched in the U.S., we view håndværk as a global brand. Petra and I are global citizens based in N.Y. We both knew the Danish word håndværk, as we share a passion for mid century modern furniture, which is mostly Danish; håndværk means artisanal or hand crafted, and it’s a word often used to describe the process of how furniture is made. We felt the word also captured the essence of our label.
What types of pieces are available currently?
We launched with the core of the basics, about 20 pieces, evenly distributed between men and women. About 40 percent is made up by our luxury underwear line. The color range is black, white, and grey. We’re making a statement here: We do not want to be mistaken for a fashion label, we are your structured basics. These are the pieces that people use the most, the classics—the grey sweatshirt, white or black t shirts, pique polo shirts, henleys, etc.
How did you figure out what gets worn most often?
To define our launch collection, Petra and I actually took inventory of what we wore on a day to day basis for about three months, which represented about five to 10 percent of our closets. For men, we did a grey sweatshirt, crew and v neck t shirts, henleys, polo shirts, undershirts, as well as underwear such as briefs, trunks, and boxer brief. For women, we did the same grey sweatshirt, casual, crew, and v neck t shirts, a tank, henley, and three underwear bottoms in 100 percent Peruvian Pima cotton.
How about heavier knits?
An amazing extra fine merino wool scarf, and a super soft, cloud like Mongolian cashmere scarf, both in light gray only, produced in a 200-year-old mill in Scotland.
What expansion plans do you have for the brand?
We plan to stay focused on the basics. We’re receiving great feedback from our customers in terms of what other products they would like us to produce. We can see a kid’s line and a home line in the future, which is a great fit given our fabric expertise. But that is still a few years off!
How do you source the line?
By collaborating with small, family-owned, high-end luxury suppliers—some of which are a part of my own family!—from around the world, depending on their unique expertise.
Sounds pretty hands-on!
Petra and I developed four different fabrics to serve as the foundation of our core collection. To be able to achieve our vision of quality and execute on the technical aspects, we source our extra-long staple Peruvian Pima cotton from one specific supplier in the northern coastal valleys of the country, who produces the highest grade cotton.
What are your current bestsellers?
Our most loved item has been the grey varsity inspired sweatshirt—we make a men’s and women’s version. It’s super soft, has an amazing tailored fit and clean minimal aesthetics, which makes it great for layering.
How popular are the skivvies?
Our underwear collection has been extremely well received. Making luxury underwear is highly technical.
What’s it like working together as a couple?
We complement each other well. We are lucky that we get to spend so much time together collaborating on håndværk. That being said, it is not always easy working as a couple.
Do you nix business talk at the dinner table?
It’s difficult drawing the line between work and our lives! Especially because we didn’t have a long history together before we ventured with håndværk. Also, Petra is an artist and has a different work clock then mine. She does stuff when it comes to her, and I’m more about getting up early and working more traditional business hours. It’s brought us much closer together, but at the same time working together got us past our honeymoon stage quicker, for sure. Petra is much better at separating life from work. I was an investment banker for close to 15 years, and I used to work around the clock. I even slept with my blackberry under the pillow.
Given the brand’s name, what’s your favorite Danish export?
Danish design! It’s simple and functional, from architecture to furniture. [I like] the works of Hans Wegner, Poul Henningsen, Poul Kjærholm, Børge Mogensen.