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Basil Racuk recently put his luxury leather goods-making temporarily on hold, and he had an excellent reason: Project Runway was considering him as one of their contenders. He was among the finalists, but when he found out he wasn't chosen, he didn't despair. He knew immediately he'd finally open up the San Francisco atelier he'd dreamed of.
After 25 years as a designer and 6 years honing his luxuriously rustic leather bags for men and women, Racuk is launching tomorrow his fine-tuned concept for a boutique-slash-leather workshop in the Mission. The space (formerly The Mission Statement) has been transformed into a light-filled showroom, the perfect backdrop for his colorful leather. Look for hand-dyed brights and metallics, plus wear-with-everything neutrals, and limited-edition leathers like the variegated version he named Lascaux after the French cave paintings.
Downstairs is the workshop where customers can collaborate with Racuk to create personalized pieces. Want to use your baby blanket as a lining? No problem. Want to add a shoulder strap to that? He's happy to accommodate. Also look for jewelry by Ojai metal artist Miles Eastman, which will be exclusive to the Basil Racuk shop. Check out our sneak peek, and stop by tomorrow for opening day! And read on to learn more about Racuk's Project Runway experience as well as his favorite local haunts.
Tell us about your Basil Racuk Premium collection.
"This is my core collection, they've been with me since the beginning. They've had slight variations, and I can change them when I like—I have that flexibility because I'm a one man ship.
Right now i think the perception about my line has a lot to do with traditional men's carry. I think the customer is looking for an artisanal newness in traditional dressing, as far as accessories. You can do whatever you want with it: Double it in size, or if you wanted to turn the leather inside out, or if you want to use your mom's dress from 1943 as a lining—whatever you want to do. My take is that everybody has a creative streak in them, it's a question of whether or not they get to express it. So as a designer I'm open to working democratically with someone. But as a craftsman, it will always be high quality. I'm giving San Francisco a Florence-type of custom quality design house with a new design method.
How long were you in Oakland, and how did you decide to open the San Francisco shop?
"Six years, and I moved into town about six months ago with my man. And about a month ago I went down to L.A. to do a casting for Project Runway. As I was driving back up I was a maybe and I wanted to keep my time open if it happened. But then I got the call that I wasn't going to be on the show and I said: 'I'm opening a shop, that's it.'"
OMG so you auditioned for Project Runway.
"Yeah! I got bumped up to semifinalist. So I didn't have to hang out and wait so that was nice."
Maybe you can try again?
"Oh yeah totally, but we'll see. If this (the shop) takes off, then I'm not going to have time for that."
Were you going to design clothing on Runway?
Yeah, I actually do design clothes. And I took what turned out to be the wrong direction. They liked the individual pieces, but because it wasn't cohesive—I didn't do a collection, I did a range. I did sportswear, I did high-end, I did funky—I gave them a whole range and they were like: "Who are you?" I understand that, as a designer I get it, but I did want to show them that I can do a lot of stuff. If I were to do it again I would show them a collection.
So you actually produced a lot of pieces.
"Oh, yeah. And I had so many orders of leather stuff to do as well. I sent in my application and the next day I got a call from the producer saying: "Yo, come down, we're going to put you into these finals, and we'll see what happens." I basically took two weeks off of doing everything to work on these samples."
Two weeks doesn't seem like nearly enough time.
"Literally, I didn't even make patterns, I just draped on the form, cut, sewed, done."
Did you go to school for design?
"I went to New York to go to school, but once I got to New York I decided just to go to work. So I started apprenticing and before I knew it I was working for a big company."
Where did you work?
"I worked at Andrew Marc for many years, prior to that I had a menswear collection for a couple years that was selling at Barney's and Macy's and Pat Fields, etc. So then after Andrew Marc I came out here and was working for Esprit for a while, and then I moved back to New York and was working for Wilke Rodriguez, which is a men's collection, as design director. Then I came back here and worked with Banana Republic for many years, and I started this about six years ago."
Awesome, are you ready for the lightning round?
Beach or mountains?
Kanye or Jay Z?
Rolling Stones or Beatles?
Favorite neighborhood lunch spot?
8am or 8pm?
Favorite coffee joint?
"Cafe Flore. I've been going there since 1978. I was a little kid when I started going there."