Weaving a Success StoryText by Allegra Muzzillo
Anne Arnold and Stefano Bruni may not have set out to build a business together, but a mutual affection for woven leather transformed their fledgling relationship into a full-blown labor of love. Bruni and Arnold, he a Modena-born Italian, she from Connecticut by way of Virginia, met in 2009 when friends introduced them. Like many other couples, they soon acquired a puppy—a happy-go-lucky springer spaniel they call Lance—whose love and affection would eventually earn him their company’s namesake. “Anne and I simply wanted to name the company Lance,” says Bruni. “But we figured our title should represent what we do. We weave,” he adds, “and Lance is our inspiration.”
One might expect that Bruni, who is no stranger to the fashion world, would have started—and stopped—in creating the Norwalk-based company’s signature woven-leather tote bags. He spent three years in the mid-’80s as a U.S. rep for Benetton, and in 1987, went on to tanning and selling high-end leather to fashion houses like Chanel, Coach, Gucci and Prada. In early 2011, as Bruni was looking to expand his existing leather-supply enterprise, his friend Peter Sallick (who runs the Danbury-based fixtures giant, Waterworks), suggested he consider moving into the home goods category.
“Stefano never contemplated making a finished product with the leather he sold,” says Arnold. But one day, Arnold, who has a passion for home design, was inspired by an old swatch of woven leather Bruni had lying around. “I started imagining things I’d like to do with it,” she says. “I had the idea that we could make beautiful woven-leather pillows.”
The couple started with prototype pillows for their own home. “Finally Stefano said, ‘We have to stop all this creating and actually show these to someone,’ ” recalls Arnold. So in mid-2011, the couple took five versions to Bergdorf Goodman. Its buyer placed an order for their Drake pillow in a color they dubbed Luggage—woven nappa leather in a purple-brown-and-rust plaid—on the spot. That August, the couple signed on for the New York International Gift Fair. “That one show helped us to gain exposure and develop a loyal following,” says Arnold, counting retailers such as Space 519 in Chicago, Cavalier in San Francisco and Miami’s ThreadCount among Lance Wovens’ first—and current—clients. From pillows, the pair quickly expanded their offerings to include totes of various kinds and upholstered furniture.
All Lance Wovens products are designed using calfskin, most often using a tanning process that results in the soft, supple material called nappa leather. The duo sketches new patterns on paper and determines colors “instinctually,” Arnold says, by placing dyed swatches alongside one another. They start with natural leather for the soft, durable and ultra-versatile panels covering everything from their iPad cases to their supple pillows and upholstered benches.
Hides are sent to Southeast Asia, where they’re cut into strips of varying lengths and widths. Some are dyed together in a vat, while others are hung individually and hand-stained before being woven. For some products, the weaving takes place first, then the pieces are hand-dyed using sponges or rags.
Designs are inspired by the familiar. “We start with recognizable, iconic patterns like plaids and stripes,” says Bruni, “and interpret them in woven leather.” Pop art, everyday objects and the couple’s clothing (a treasured cashmere scarf, Bruni’s favorite flannel shirt and even an old pair of Arnold’s blue jeans) are cheekily riffed on to create their impossibly chic synthesis of unique colorways and practicality. The woven leather totes? “An unexpected, playful alternative to a canvas boat tote,” says Arnold. And that Drake pillow? It’s loosely based on Stefano’s beloved scarf by Drake’s London.
In just a year and a half, Lance Wovens has rolled out scores of products in eight different lines—from blankets to rugs to headboards. Now Arnold and Bruni are looking into working with non-leather materials such as jute, cotton and straw. Cashmere will be front-and-center for their first blanket collection.
The company’s future plans also include a showroom in New York City’s design district.
As for Lance? Well, you might say he’s quality control. “Every day he positions himself on our office sofa and lies on top of our pillows,” Arnold says with a laugh. “He thinks they’re pretty comfy.” •
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