So today’s post is all about ‘HollenWolff’ a brand based in Milwaukee, USA that specializes in the true art and craftsmanship of creating cufflinks – now some of you might be thinking you are not that interested in cufflinks, but this post sets out to give you an insight into a brand that I for one have a whole lot of respect for and also the products are made with unparalleled attention to detail. To introduce you to HollenWolff I got the pleasure of interviewing the Creative Director – James Lohmiller to give you an insightful look into the brand.
So the brand is called ‘HollenWolff’ what does HollenWolff mean and represent?
The name HollenWolff is an amalgamation of the surnames Hollenbeck and Wolff. Stanley Hollenbeck was my grandfather and, due to his impeccable style, the inspiration behind my lifelong interest in fashion. Paul Wolff, my fellow cofounder Kyle Stoehr's grandfather, was a tool and die manufacturer and similarly, an enduring inspiration of his regarding mechanical ingenuity.
Kyle, a ball bearing manufacturer by trade, and I met when I was selling custom clothing. When we decided to combine our passions in a venture, the name was an easy decision as that combination is really what HollenWolff represents - the intersection of mechanical function and style.
I must say, the video introducing the brand on your website is brilliantly shot, and offers a great look into the craftsmanship behind the production of the HollenWolff cufflinks, what was your creative thought process behind the video?
Thank you. When we met with our filmmaker, Bill Seidel, we explained that we wanted our film to be both educational with respect to the integrity of the manufacturing process, as well as celebratory of craftsmanship in all forms – from machining to music. Our violinist, Jordan Waraksa, is both a master woodworker and professional musician who laid down the song spontaneously in his workshop, looping his own tracks over one another. It was really amazing. We want our product to evoke the same kind of emotion as a brilliant performance can.
The HollenWolff brand, a really refreshing and unique company...selling a uniquely refined product…how did the brand come about and what do you want to achieve with it?
Kyle and I were at a charity event one night in 2009, and he was complaining about having worked up a sweat getting his cufflinks on earlier in the night. I showed him on my phone that I had just been researching vintage snap-together cufflinks earlier in the day that were popular in the 1920s and '30s, and that you put on before putting on your shirt. Kyle knew we could make them. A cocktail or two later HollenWolff was born, and within days we were reviewing designs.
So, the brand HollenWolff is from Milwaukee…what’s it like there?
That's a question we feel is important to understanding our brand. For over a century, Milwaukee was known as the machine shop to the world. Geographically, we're located in the Midwest industrial belt 150 km north of Chicago. Due to a heavy concentration of skilled European tradesmen, predominantly German by ethnicity, who originally immigrated to the area, Milwaukee has a rich history of skilled manufacturing (not coincidentally, some of our most famous staples include beer, sausage and cheese). Perhaps our most familiar export, however, is the Harley Davidson. As a smaller metropolitan area, and despite the fact we are producing a traditionally high-brow product, we felt it important to celebrate our blue collar heritage in a way that contrasts traditional expectation.
What does the word ‘craftsmanship’ mean to HollenWolff?
Also from our home state of Wisconsin, furniture icon Gustav Stickley emblazoned the Flemish craftsman's phrase "ALS IK KAN" on the bottom of every piece of furniture he built. Translated, the words mean "to the best of my ability". It's hard to imagine there could be a more perfect definition.
If I’m being honest I have never seen or heard of bearing-lock mechanical cufflinks before, what is good/different about buying a pair of these types of cufflinks?
The early 1900s were the golden age of cufflink ingenuity, when dozens of innovative designs were patented including the bearing lock cufflink in 1924. Companies like Swank were making 12 million cufflinks a year up until the 1960s, a large portion of which consisting of a snap together design. All cufflinks at this time were double sided. The combination of the emerging popularity of the button-down dress shirt, as well as automation that made the one-sided T-bar flip closure very economical to produce rendered this ingenuity largely obsolete until today.
In addition to form which of course is subjective, there are several functional benefits of mechanical cufflinks. Installation is easier, due to the ability to install them on a shirt before butting the shirt on. This feature also means you can disconnect them while they remain in the cuff, for example to roll up your sleeves. Another feature we’ve brought to our adjustable-length design is the ability to lock the cufflink to one of two lengths for comfort, or to accommodate a larger watch for example. Security, or loss prevention, is yet another – our cufflinks won’t come undone until you unlock them.
I like the simplicity with which the cufflinks are designed, is this something you were trying to achieve?
This is a purpose-built machine with a function. Although we’re a new brand, we’re applying fifty years of manufacturing experience in industrial environments. This has certainly taught us the benefits of keeping mechanical design as straight forward as possible. We felt it important for function to dictate the results with little added.
What are your feelings on the overall ‘cufflink’ market, and where do you think you fit in with this?
In general, men’s accessories have been a doing very well over the past few years, although we’re not fond of the word “accessory” however as a category within which to insert our product. By nature it implies the superficial. We are more interested in substance. What sort of a man would wear these? What is going on with this person? We’d like to give that man permission to wear cufflinks often and outside of what are considered traditional forums for doing so – for example only for formal occasions.
Is the HollenWolff brand just going to produce cufflinks or is there any scope to create any more accessories?
There is a unique satisfaction that comes with owning an item of exceptional quality. You can tell when something was handcrafted by somebody who cares. We are interested in making things that stand the test of time.
I must say, never mind the product, I absolutely love the attention to detail that has gone into making the box and leather detailing that has gone into the box…I believe it’s these attention to details that us gentlemen really respond too…did you give much thought to the packaging or was it something that just came naturally?
Again, ALS IK KAN. This is the best we can make and very much a part of the experience of owning a HollenWolff product. We wanted our packaging to be as worthy of heirloom gifting as its contents – something you pass down to your son.
What is your opinion on the popularity of cufflinks in 2012, are they as popular in America as the rest of the world?
We’re quite a distance removed from the golden age of cufflinks as referred to earlier, however it’s apparent that an renaissance of appreciation for craftsmanship as it pertains to men’s apparel and furnishings is upon us – substance trumping novelty, and quality over quantity. We hope to be a part of their resurgence.
Can you give me a fact about Milwaukee that ‘us’ Brits would have never heard before?
There is likely no place outside of the UK that is more familiar with the culinary celebration of fish and chips. The “Friday night fish fry” is very large part of our regional culture.
In one sentence, sum up the HollenWolff brand for me?
When style transcends the superficial, things get interesting.
(All images courtesy of HollenWolff)
I would like to thank James for his time, I really enjoyed finding out more about this new brand, a brand where attention to detail goes into everything they do (including the beautiful packaging). I wish them the best of luck for the future…I must also point out that the answer to my last interview question is so absolutely brilliant that I’m going to have to quote it again ‘When style transcends the superficial, things get interesting’ brilliant! If you would like to find out more about HollenWolff then visit their website at: www.hollenwolff.com