Box San Sebastián, ‘leather artisans since 1948’

Leather craftsmanship carefully honed by couture techniques is the essence of Box San Sebastián. Its bags, with a range of handle systems to cater for the versatility of today’s women, are the centre of a total-leather universe synonymous with quality and ‘denomination of origin’. Gerardo González, second-generation member of the family behind the brand, told us all about it.

-Manuel González and Pepi Baragaña had a brilliant partnership.
-My father was a superb leather artisan and my mother, who was born in a couture workshop, exquisite taste. Grandma Teresa started out as a senior artisan with master designer Cristóbal Balenciaga. So my mother’s background, combined with her tenacity and my father’s expertise gave birth to what is now Box San Sebastián.

-And sixty-six years on, what changes has the family’s second generation made?
-Like almost all traditional crafts, ours is still based on tools and working methods that have changed very little over the years, although we do adapt to fashion trends. But we also use new technologies which enable us to etch, paint by sublimation, or cut and perforate with laser, and that means we can take our ideas further. The second generation has also built up a strong brand identity.

-The brand’s name is a tribute to the high-quality tanning of box calf.
-That’s right. In 1965 when our parents opened their first shop, they needed a short, catchy name with a good ring to it. We’ve always prioritised bovine leather, especially calf tanned in Spain, as it still is today; the leather you get in Northern Spain is one of the most sought-after in the world. Another of our specialities is water buffalo from the best cattle-breeders in Asia. It‘s tanned and embellished with a patina our tanner makes by hand. We also know the ins-and-outs of exotic leathers like crocodile, ostrich and snake, which we reserve for iconic designs and limited editions.

-The city of San Sebastián is part of the brand’s identity…
-It’s where our family comes from and still lives now. That solid bond led us to make a metal handle inspired by the masonry stone used in the buildings in the old part of the city, while the colour of our jacquard lining is a reflection of our sandy beaches. We also design a leather panel for bags, etched and perforated with a sequence from the railings on La Concha beach. We’ve designed a rectangular fan which recreates the logo presented for the city’s bid to become “European Capital of Culture 2016”, which comes with a unique leather case in trapezoid shape.

-What else distinguishes Box San Sebastián design?
-We prioritise practicality. Our saddlery roots and hand sewing also make us different. And the different systems we use in our bag-handles also stand out from the rest.

-How and where are your collections made?
-All our designs are made at our San Sebastián facility, where we also have a workshop-lab which makes prototypes, does research on new materials and small series of limited editions or bespoke bags. Production takes place in our artisan associates’ workshops.

-Which are your brand icons?
-Our best-known bag is “8010Y6”. The name comes from the year (19)80 and month, 10, when the collection came out, and the number of positions you have to change the bag’s size and appearance, which is 6 in this case. We’ve restyled it several times since. Another bag from the same time is “Paracaídas” or Parachute, which I’m especially fond of because it was the first idea I developed while I was watching a parachuting exercise during military service. Of our latest creations, my favourites are two small bags: “TT” which has secret wallet compartment and a versatile handle/shoulder strap which means you can transport it five different ways; and “Bolsita Joya” or Little Jewel Bag, which is our own soft answer to the metal clutch.

-Tell us about your customer profile…
-Women aged 35 to 75, although we’ve noticed the younger generations using our icons too, “retrieving” them from the wardrobes of mothers and grandmothers.

-The brand universe includes a fragrance…
-At our shop in Calle San Martín in San Sebastián, the different leather aromas mingle together and our customers were always saying “What a great leather smell!” So in 2007, we launched our own perfume, “Esencia de piel” (which means Leather Essence). The bottle comes in a case that can be used as a desktop cardholder.

-You’ve just redesigned your website and relaunched your e-shop. What growth are you expecting in this channel?
-We’re quietly optimistic. It’s a service many customers who’ve moved away really appreciate. As do a lot of the tourists who’ve visited us in San Sebastián.

-You’ve got two boutiques in San Sebastián. What are they like?
-Our shop in Calle San Martín will be 50 in January and is a benchmark. That’s where we have all our bags and leather goods for men and women, as well as office and home articles, the professional section which includes document holders, computer and tablet covers, and our travel collection. It’s also the site of our workshop-lab.
In our boutique in Calle Peñaflorida, we have coats and jackets, a bracelet collection in exotic leathers and all our know-how to tackle architectural ideas, from leather sculpture to the customising and design of books and even leather panels to be used as linings in all kinds of different places.

-In 2013, you launched in Japan. Why that choice for your global debut?
-We opted for Japan because of the admiration our products, background and history receive from the tourists who visit us here in Spain. They set great store by the fact that our products are 100% made in Spain, indeed our manufacturing and country brandname is gaining ground on Italy.
For the meantime, we’ll be focusing on consolidating our presence in Japan.

Box San Sebastián close up:
Head office: Calle San Martín, 12. San Sebastián (Basque Country).
Export rate: 9%.
Main global market: Japan.
Trade shows: Mode in France Tokyo, in Japan