Meet: Basil Racuk
Adding a personal touch to luxury goods.
Portrait by Shaun Fenn
In an age of disposable merchandise, when manufacturers cut corners to ensure a cheap price tag, Basil Racuk has gone in the opposite direction.
“If anything, I probably add corners,” he says, with a laugh.
Racuk isn’t kidding. The floor of his workshop in his Oakland live-work loft reveals evidence of a craftsman who makes each of his leather creations painstakingly by hand. Scattered throughout the room, as if to prove his authenticity, are spools of locally sourced leather skins (he works with cow, buffalo, even deer hides), bags in various stages of completion, as well as some tools of the trade, including two seemingly archaic ’30s- and ’40s-era Singer sewing machines.
“I just like the way the stitches look,” he explains.
A custom-ordered bag can take anywhere from several weeks to several months to complete. Each item in his collection of men’s and women’s accessories, ranging from travelers’ totes and briefcases to belts and iPad cases, is filled with wonderfully personal touches, such as rustic hand stitching, oddly placed pockets, and raw, unfinished edges.
The unique elements add up to one-of-a-kind pieces, but his collection retains a sleek look that exudes a sense of modern luxury. Indeed, though his work is clearly handcrafted, it’s closer to something you’d find in Barneys than on Etsy, and that’s reflected in the price tag: His bags run from $250 to multiple thousands.
In fact, Racuk is in talks with Barneys to carry his collection in its New York store, alongside items by Prada and Gucci. His work is carried at two of the highest-end stores in the country, Bergdorf Goodman and Leffot in Manhattan, and has been featured in scores of publications, including The New York Times style section.
That his work has cosmopolitan appeal should come as no surprise. Although he was raised in Concord—he used to scour East Bay thrift stores as a teen and sell his discoveries to vintage-lovers in San Francisco—Racuk attended the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City in the late ’80s. He stayed in the city for a decade, working in the men’s fashion industry, and only moved back to the Bay Area in 2002, after getting hired as a men’s clothing designer by Banana Republic.
Despite a dream job, Racuk longed to delve deeper into his artistic side.
“I was thinking: ‘I’m pulling a pay check—that’s great. I own a couple of things—that’s great. But where’s the creativity?’ I had forgotten where my passion was,” he says.
So Racuk started his own line, settling on accessories instead of clothing because he felt he could bring a fresh perspective to that field, and recharging his creative energy by choosing to make everything by hand.
“I really wanted to get under the hood, instead of just creating these design packages that I would turn in electronically to get sent off to a factory to be built,” he explains.
Racuk says the artistic and entrepreneurial spirit of California—and particularly the Bay Area—helped him take the leap.
“I’m a big fan of California, but I had to leave and come back to get that understanding that I kind of took for granted,” he says. “When I came back, it was important to get a motorcycle; it was important that I go to Burning Man; it was important that I start hiking and camping and do all these things I hadn’t thought to do when I was here. I’m a total born-again Californian.”
California also informs his work with a palpable connection to the region’s natural environment (many of his leathers and dyes are sourced locally) and the work’s simple, rustic aesthetic. It’s something he acknowledges in the titles of his pieces: the Hayes messenger, the Sonoma and Farmers Market totes.
But just as important to his work, he says, is the one-on-one interaction he now has with people. Racuk often works individually with customers to tweak existing designs or even create custom pieces entirely from scratch. And that personal connection, versus an often-anonymous mass market shopping experience, is perhaps the most valuable part of what he’s selling.
“It’s me; I’m a person—you’re talking to someone,” Racuk says. “It comes back to humanity and connecting to something on a deeper level. I really do think that’s the whole point right there.”
For more information, or to view Basil Racuk’s work, go to basilracuk.com.
Raw Suede: These cut, chapped suede bags are made unlined with hardware accents. “These pieces have a more unstructured look than my core collection.”
Wine Dyed: This line is made with saddle leather steeped in red wine. “We’re in Northern California; of course I have to pay some respect to wine.”
Metal Detailing: These bags incorporate artist Miles Eastman’s nature-influenced metalwork, including bag handles made from forged manzanita branches and twig-shaped zipper pulls. “This stuff is less tailored. It’s a little more Janis Joplin and Grace Slick.”