Denmark’s Klavs Graae–Makers of the World’s Finest Leather Belts and Hunting Accessories

Klavs Graae’s The Soul of LeatherMakers of the World’s Most Luxurious Belts and Hunting Accessories.

In the real estate business, there is the adage, “location, location, location.” In the leather goods business, there is the phrase “material, material, material.” And for Danish-born leather designer Klavs Graae, the phrase transcends business philosophy and enters the realm of business religion.

When Klavs Graae uses calf and buffalo leathers, they must be from Scandinavian-bred-and-raised animals, the cold, northern climate and the region’s special breeds producing an exceedingly durable, yet supple, leather. And Graae’s exotic leathers—alligator, crocodile, lizard, elephant, and ostrich—are all tanned in Italy with CITES certificates guaranteeing that the skins have met the conditions of the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora. All of Graae’s leathers are vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed (as opposed to chrome-tanned) in Italy using the absolute highest standards, thereby producing materials that endure and patinate beautifully. Graae’s aim is to produce luxurious leather items that last a lifetime and beyond.

But of all Graae’s products—from hunting bags to business card holders to knife sheaths—he is most revered for his handmade belts with their trademark solid sterling silver buckles. A Klavs Graae belt is designed and crafted such that a young gentleman can wear a belt once worn by his father.

Graae hand-selects each skin from the world’s best tanneries, including Italy’s Tempesti, supplier of the vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed skins used to produce the belts. Tanned from natural plant extracts such as oak bark, rhubarb, eucalyptus, and acacia bark, the skins attain rich hues that age and patinate beautifully. The handmade collection is made-to-measure, one customer at a time; and each element of the construction of each belt—the design, the pattern-making, the cutting, and the sewing—begins and ends at the Copenhagen workshop. Klavs Graae—himself—crafts each belt, from beginning to end and each step in between. And customers are offered the options of selecting specific buckles, thread color, leather color, etc., thereby individualizing their purchases. Each belt is interlined to create contour and lined with Scandinavian calfskin for suppleness and durability. Serafina silk thread is used to finely stitch the perimeter of the skin, and the belt’s beveled edge is hand-rubbed. Dyed, elliptically shaped buckle holes called “double holes”—a “trademark” invented by Graae—allow for a more forgiving fit, and the Graae-designed buckles are made of hand-polished sterling silver. A Graae belt is crafted to become an heirloom piece, improving with age. He offers a custom-dye option, allowing clients to match the color of their belts to their shoes or some other accessory. Each belt is sold in a pouch made of leather of the Scandinavian elk. A certificate verifying the authenticity and origin of the skin from which it is made, and a silver-polishing cloth is provided with each belt.

 

The History

But one does not just “become” or “declare oneself” the world’s greatest maker of belts; it requires a lifetime commitment to the trade. Klavs Graae entered the leather trade in 1967, fresh out of high school, when he worked at “Bit ov Sole,” the first European leather shop in Copenhagen, craftsmen from all over Europe collaborating and sharing their ideas there. There, Graae designed and made leather garments for such music luminaries as Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. Then two years later, in 1969, he moved to the enchanting Balearic island of Ibiza, where his handmade leather products became immediately popular with Americans who had sought refuge on the island in their attempts to avoid the Vietnam War. But after one year in Franco-era Spain, Graae returned to Scandinavia, where he lived for 14 years in the forests of Småland, Sweden, breeding wild boar, amongst other things. And it is there, amidst the noble wild boar, that he received the inspiration for his present-day logo, which incorporates the boar’s head.

In 1984 Graae “returned to the civilized world” and founded Graae Design, a company specializing in handmade belts and leather goods. (During those years he was also commissioned by Royal Copenhagen to create special leather cases for the company’s luxurious “Flora Danica” porcelain line). But to a large degree, it was Graae’s decision in 2001 to launch the “Klavs Graae Solid Silver Collection,” a series of exquisite leather belts featuring exotic skins and solid silver buckles, that began solidifying his claim as the maker of the world’s most luxurious belts. In 2009, Graae Design became Graae Copenhagen, the new company expanding its product line to include such items as weekend bags and iPad cases. In 2014, after five years with the newly organized Graae Copenhagen, Klavs Graae left the company and established Klavs Graae—The Soul of Leather in 2016 (www.soulofleather.squarespace.com ) . It is his hope to pass on his more than half-century experience in fine leather-making to the next generation.

Graae Copenhagen–The World’s Most Luxurious Men’s Belts

Handmade Alligator Leather Belt by Graae Copenhagen

Accessories are to fashion what punctuation is to literature: A luxurious, seven-fold, self-tip silk tie by Stefano Ricci is an exclamation point; an exquisite set of sterling silver Georg Jensen cufflinks is quotation marks; a pair of handmade Alfred Sargent shoes is the period at the end of a fashion statement; and nothing underscores a shirt of crisp Irish linen like a hand-crafted belt of alligator leather by Graae Copenhagen.

If there is a sartorial barometer of a well-dressed man, it is the quality of his belt and shoes. A 21st -century man in battered jeans and a simple, clean, white Fruit of the Loom T-shirt would be undeniably well-dressed in most venues if his shoes and belt are of exquisite quality. And while Graae Copenhagen (www.graaecopenhagen.com) has not yet ventured into shoe-making, when it comes to luxurious belts, this Danish company reigns supreme.

Graae Copenhagen hand-selects each skin from the world’s best tanneries, including Italy’s Tempesti, supplier of the vegetable-tanned and aniline-dyed alligator skins used to produce the belts. Tanned from natural plant extracts such as oak bark, rhubarb, eucalyptus, and acacia bark, the skins attain rich hues that age and patinate beautifully. The handmade collection is made-to-measure, one customer at a time; and each element of the construction of each belt—the design, the pattern-making, the cutting, and the sewing—begins and ends at the Copenhagen workshop. The same craftsman who starts the belt, finishes the belt, and personally executes each step in between. Each belt is interlined to create contour and lined with latigo leather for durability. Serafina silk thread is used to finely stitch the perimeter of the skin, and the belt’s beveled edge is hand-rubbed. Dyed, elliptically shaped buckle holes called “double holes”—a company “trademark”—allow for a more forgiving fit, and the company-designed buckles are made of hand-polished sterling silver. A Graae Copenhagen handmade alligator leather belt is crafted to last a lifetime, improving with age. Each belt is sold in a wooden box with a certificate verifying the authenticity and origin of the skin from which it is made.

The company’s attention to detail is the result of decades of experience in the leather trade. In 1967, company founder Klavs Graae began working with leather in a workshop in central Copenhagen, some of his earliest clients being members of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones. The company survived the 1960s by catering to many of the draft-dodgers of the Vietnam War while Graae was living and working on the Balearic island of Ibiza. Thereafter, for 14 years, Graae lived in the forests of Sweden, honing his skills and expanding his knowledge of feral hides, forestry, and the natural world. Then in 1984, he returned to Copenhagen and founded the company that would eventually become Graae Copenhagen. Today, the company, headed by Jeppe Dencker, manufacturers a prêt-à-porter collection featuring a wide range of leather goods, from brief cases and handbags to luggage and cardholders to iPad sleeves and iPhone covers. After being designed and tested in Copenhagen, production of that more modestly priced collection occurs in Italy, Spain, and France by artisans, most of whom descend from leather-craft families. But the company’s marquee product has been, and remains, its handmade belts of alligator leather: They are the world’s best belts—period.