It’s in the Bag! Alles dreht sich um Taschen!
By Gene Fowler
German leather artisan Aline Seiler has always been into bags. “As a teenager,” she says, “I always wanted to know about the latest bag of the season and one of my big, big dreams was to one day own a designer bag. I was obsessed with everything Alexander Wang did back then and I talked all the time about someday purchasing my own Chanel bag.”
She was a dedicated fashionista from an early age. “As a child, I always wanted to dress myself and I even put together a fashion show in school when I was about 12 years old. I initiated a project in which some other students and I made our own clothes and modeled them for our classmates.”
Still, she says, though she did dream about getting into the fashion industry, she never imagined that she would pursue a career in bag making. But, as so often happens to us all, life had other plans for Aline. Her bespoke bag brand, the eponymous Aline Seiler, turns out sleek and unique handcrafted luxury totes, clutches, cross body bags, evening bags and shoulder bags. A one-woman shop, Aline is based today in the city of Leipzig.
Known as a hotbed of protest before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Leipzig has often been called the “City of Heroes.” An economic upswing in recent years has added the nickname “Boomtown of eastern Germany” and the city’s cultural vitality inspired an additional moniker, “the better Berlin.” In 2019, the Academy of Urbanism, a nonprofit based in Great Britain, named Leipzig the European City of the Year at the Urbanism Awards.
Seiler, 34, grew up in Göttingen, a university town in central Germany. After achieving a bachelor’s degree in business and a master’s in marketing, she began her professional career as a consultant with Deloitte. “With innovative services,” notes the company’s website, “Deloitte helps its clients to remain competitive and grow sustainably. Our services include auditing, risk advisory, tax advice, financial advisory and consulting.”
“I soon realized I didn’t want to sleep in a hotel room four nights a week and didn’t love the job in general,” Aline explains. “I mostly worked in Berlin at the time, while we lived in Dornbirn, Austria. Then I went to work as an online marketing manager in a great digital agency.” After two years, her husband got a job offer in Leipzig and the couple moved back to Germany in the summer of 2017.
Aline’s leatherwork odyssey began during the two years that she worked at the digital agency. “I really liked what I was doing, but still felt kind of burned out and needed to do something with my hands. It was frustrating to not see any of my work at the end of the day, since everything about the job was digital. I remember starting with the smallest little projects and buying a few leathercraft books and a little set of tools to help me get started. One of the first things I created was a little zippered pouch for all of the little things I needed during the day. I also started making a few luggage tags.”
Perhaps her biggest challenge during this pre-bag period was a pair of baby moccasins for a friend who was expecting. “This was the item that kind of got everything really going. And so many of my colleagues wanted to order a pair that I had to limit it to one pair a week….but I hated making them. They are just so tiny and fiddly to make. I do still make them, but only for my very close friends.”
Aline’s sister soon nudged her in the direction of bag making. “She fell in love with a bag, but hated the lining and asked me to make her this bag. I had no pattern and no experience in making a bag, but I just went for it and gave her the bag as a Christmas present. Today, that bag looks hideous to me. She still has it, but I’m glad she doesn’t take it out in public!”
Through trial and error, Seiler also learned how to make smaller projects such as card holders, passport cases, leather trays and key rings. And she learned to saddle stitch through instruction books, YouTube tutorials and by studying images on various Instagram accounts. “Saddle stitching was my only option in the beginning because I didn’t want to invest the money for a sewing machine. So, my great love for saddle stitching was born out of pure coincidence.” She did later purchase a sewing machine, but never grew comfortable with it for leather projects.
“I’m more or less completely self-trained, but did start online classes once they were available,” adds Seiler. She subscribed to the Leathercraft Masterclass offered online by English leather artist Philip Jury. “And back when I started, I saved every post shared by Peter Nitz of Switzerland and zoomed in on his details to try and see everything. His online classes have been very helpful.”
When Aline and her husband moved to Leipzig in 2017, she took another job in an agency. “But the overall approach of this agency conflicted with everything I believe, so I quit after just two weeks. My husband was very supportive of me and was the one who suggested that I try and start my own business.” Thus, in January 2018, the German luxury leather bag brand Aline Seiler was born.
Today, she offers a variety of designs and works with clients to create new bag designs. The Toujours bag is designed to be its owner’s everyday companion. (The French word toujours means always.) “It was created for a client who’s a flight attendant,” says Aline. “She gave me the challenge to design a bag large enough to carry all of the essentials she needs on the overlay days in different cities all over the world. The shoulder strap should be adjustable in length so the bag could be worn as a crossbody when out and about, but also over the shoulder for the evening.”
The most important feature, Aline adds, is that the Toujours is foldable. “You can fold it to be almost completely flat, which makes it perfect to throw into a suitcase. During flights she has to carry the bag provided by the airline, so it needed to fit into the suitcase. It’s turned out that this bag is one of my most requested designs. I carry the Toujours a lot myself, especially when I’m running errands, because it expands a lot and has more room than one might think.”
The Aline Seiler x Lilibell bag—made of goatskin paired with chocolate brown nappa—was codesigned with Bettina Ostermayer, the founder of Lilibell, a German company that offers a “modern alternative” to the diaper bag. “This special diaper bag insert/bag organizer is one of my most feminine designs. I love the combination of the blush body of the bag with the chocolate brown handles and other details. The knotted handles of the bag are such a fun and delicate detail. But what I love most about this bag is the sustainability thought process that went into it.”
Aline explains that the Lilibell bag itself was created to turn any bag into a diaper bag, allowing the customer to use any bag they already own. “We added d-rings on the inside of the bag so that the bag can be attached to the stroller, but the overall bag is intended to be a longtime favorite that you can use long after your baby has grown out of the diaper age.”
Aline cites the Poppy as the bag that took the most time to develop. “I was intrigued by the 3D effect and played around with it on several designs. I already offered 3D monogramming on bags (which is very popular for brides) and started to play around with it more. It’s inspired by the classic Chanel double flap, but I didn’t choose to integrate the functionality of it. When I started the first Poppy design, I wanted to create a small bag that would accommodate everything I need to take with me all the time, but not much more.”
She also wanted the Poppy to be versatile. “So, I went with integrating the shoulder strap in the flap and punching an extra hole so that you can transform it from a crossbody to a shoulder bag. If you remove the strap, it makes a beautiful clutch. The biggest challenge with this particular bag was the closure. I wanted it to be hidden, but I didn’t want a magnet because the whole weight of the bag sits on it. Therefore, I chose a certain type of snap, which can be installed invisibly from the outside but actually closes shut so that you don’t risk the bag opening because it got too heavy.”
In the accessories department, Aline offers luggage tags, eyeglasses and pencil cases, card holders, passport sleeves, bag tags and key chains. “My favorite accessory by far is the small envelope wallet. Ever since I made the first one, I use the prototype as my actual wallet. It has room for about six cards and a few bills and coins. It’s really all that I need and I love that it’s so small. I’ve always liked the classic envelope look and I think it has a timeless appeal. A client favorite is the letter charm. You can get one or more in your favorite color, either as a bag tag or a key chain. It’s a fun way to personalize a bag and also makes for a great gift.”
In terms of hides, Aline primarily uses chrome tanned leather. “It’s calf, cow and goatskin most of the time. I do prefer the classic cowhide because I know the leather comes from the meat industry, which makes it more of a full-circle product. I like the French goatskin because it’s a little stiffer. The most exotic leather I’ve worked with so far is fish leather, which I love. It gives off the same vibe as many exotic leathers do, but the skins come from fish that will also be eaten. The fish skins are too small to create a full-size bag, but I love it for small leather goods.”
Though she primarily uses chrome tanned leather, Aline has recently been exploring veg tanned leathers and hopes to integrate them more into her work. “But I’ve always loved all kinds of leather. It’s mainly the durability of the material – the way it continues to evolve and develop over the years. But it’s also the look, touch and smell of leather. I never got too deep into the topic of the tanning process though, until I started to look more and more into sustainability and the effects of the leather industry on the environment. This is one of the reasons I source my leather from tanneries in Germany, France and Italy, where I know the regulations are strict and the environmental impact is as small as possible.”
The most special leather project by far that Aline has done, she explains, is a bag that was created from a leather trench coat that had belonged to a client’s late husband. “I really wanted the bag to turn out perfect because it held such special meaning for the client. I created a reel about the project that went viral, with 1.8 million views to date.”
As a result, she has been getting more and more requests to turn old leather jackets and coats into bags. “But it’s really challenging because you don’t know what you’re working with until you see the item in real life. The client sends the coat to me and then I do the consultation on what we can do with the leather.”
Though she doesn’t intend for the renewal of old leather items to become the primary focus of her brand, she likes the idea of creating something new from something old. “In addition to the sustainability factor, the emotional value of these bags I get to create is enormous. The client for whom I created the Poppy bag out of the trench coat was so happy with the bag. And now, though her husband is gone, she feels that she still has him by her side wherever she takes the bag.”