“Everything should be beautiful, if you can just start from there.”- AJR
Meet A. Jason Ross, the designer and master craftsman behind a stunning collection of accessories for men and women rapidly advancing into the realm of ‘must have’. In truth, Ross already has a cult following of fashionistas as well as those who love to indulge in quiet luxury – his designs are absent of, so-called, ‘neon-sign’ labels.
Ross’s design studio is housed in the former Monarch Luggage factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s a fitting home for the designer who crafts leather accessories under the name Artemas Quibble and the Creatures of Mme. Du Barry. Upon entering, you know that you are in an artisan’s lair. A visitor is immediately greeted with the sweet smell of leather and the various rhythms of cutting, sanding, hammering, pounding, forging, casting, soldering and buffing, this as artists are busy at work. Hand-crafted tools, designed by Ross (he has 27 hammers), share wall space with leather swatches, thick, antique leather remnants, deconstructed keys and crops from other metal artifacts. Ross, with the help of lighting designer Robert Ogden collects a lot of antique materials. Huge windows usher in natural light – showcasing the beauty of the rough-hewn wood floors and the artful chaos of the studio’s walls.
The day I caught up with Ross, he was preoccupied with a new collaboration forged with Donna Karan – a stunning collection of belts for Karan’s ‘Casual Luxe’ line. Of course, that’s not all that’s keeping Ross busy these days. He pedals his wares at Urban Zen. There’s a venture with ABC and handbags for Henry Beguelin. He has also developed a bespoke service with Barney’s called the ‘Watch Transformation Project.’ This is not your father’s watchband, nor is it you your mother’s. It’s a bold, innovative design embellished with an antique metal over-leather hinge, with a short or long, sinewy strap with or without a buckle. The leather’s rich patina lends a sublime elegance to the band. Says Ross, “The watch mechanism is a very beautiful thing and I love the idea of having the raw, rougher antique metal work next to say a 19th, 20th or 21st century watch.” A WTP band is a final flourish of one’s dress that uniquely presents a vibe that is both rugged and refined.
It’s a curious mix that is representative of Ross himself. Ross is a history and archeology-buff or “geek” depending on how you look at it. It’s that respect for the past that clearly informs his design sensibility. “My daily read is Archeology.org, Arts and Letters Daily and I also read the latest Discovery and that usually leads me to some kind of interesting website which might lead me in a new direction in my work,” he says adding, “I can look to any ancient period to find inspiration.” Ross admits that as a kid he was eager to dig up dinosaur bones in the yard of his family’s home, alas it never happened. During summer camp in Maine however, he recalls digging up old bottles and fragments of old bottles on the site of a former hospital. “I remember that as being tremendously exciting,” he says adding, “I like, with my work, to have history.”
Ross, who is also a guest lecturer at the Parsons School of Design, describes himself as an ‘abstract perfectionist’. When you look at his work, to the untrained eye, it looks like an accident when in fact there are blueprints, laws, rules and ‘illustrated tales’ that describe everything. “When you work with primitive tools which is part of the process of my work and part of what informs it, you have to have laws that govern the construction of the piece because there’s a certain randomness that happens,” according to Ross. He also gives credit to his girlfriend Natasha Chekoudjian, “She is a muse to me and is really amazing at sourcing ancient references.”
A Philadelphia transplant, Ross has been in Manhattan about a year and a half. The decision to make the move from Philly to Gotham was simple: he had a growing list of clients and business contacts in the City and wanted to be more accessible to them. “The reality is, there was not a store in Philadelphia selling my work,” according to Ross. He grew up on Philadelphia’s Main Line in a home appointed with French antiques, “a lot of gilt bronze,” he says. His mother, the late Caren Ross, in the 70’s, created a line of accessories including belts made of bullets under the label Bang Bang. His father Milton Ross was an inventor and manufacturer with an appreciation for Savile Row suits and Mr. Fish shirts. Ross, the younger, was educated at the elite Haverford School before attending Boston University.
He says he never thought he’d be making accessories. He started off making boxes constructed of reclaimed wood, lined with antique papers from engineering drawings. He then began making furniture. Ross developed an interest in accessories after becoming fascinated by leather machinery belting he saw at a wood-worker’s shop he was renting space in. Eventually, he began incorporating leather into his woodworking. At some point, he was asked to make a bracelet for a friend, Doub Hanshaw, who wore it to work. The buyers she worked with became interested in the bracelet and that ultimately translated into an order from Free People.
The label name, Artemas Quibble and Creatures of Mme du Barry, was initially a character to hide behind, as Ross didn’t see himself as an accessory designer – it was so distant from his woodworking. Nor did he see himself in the world of fashion because he was partly intimidated by it. In any case, Artemas Quibble, borrowed from the Arthur Cheney Train novel, had a quirky, enigmatic appeal. The Creatures of Madame du Barry has its roots in a guide to France from the late 1900’s. The curiously charming collision of the two names to create a label for his brand is also partly Ross railing against the machine. The ‘machine’ that, in a world of texts and tweets, compels ppl 2 shrtn evrythng.
With keen attention to detail a hallmark of who Ross is, intrepid photographer Weston Wells and I were eager to ‘pick his pockets’ and examine the details of his existence.
“I cannot walk out of the door without a journal and a pen in the same way I can’t walk of the door with my inhaler, I don’t know if I’m going to need it but I always have to have it,” says Ross adding that as an artist, “You have to be able to archive your ideas.” Ross makes his own journals using antique book covers. He mixes his own ink for the Mont Blanc pen he carries, “Hopefully it looks like the burnt umber you might find in da Vinci’s notebook or something… I dunno.” The specs are antiques. The two leather cases, Ross made for himself. One is a combination checkbook holder and wallet. The other case, in the photo, plays host to miscellaneous items including business cards, his iPhone, which is great for inspiration photos and mapping. A pocket-knife adorns the keychain. “It’s very functional. It seems like I’m always needing a little blade to open a package or cut a piece of leather,” he says. A final detail, not photographed, is what appears to be a remnant of a shirt or other much-loved article of clothing which has been resurrected as a scarf or roughly tied ascot.
Photography by Weston Wells