The technical and ornamental ingenuity of Mains d’Œuvre

The technical and ornamental ingenuity of Mains d’Œuvre

Three years of hard graft paid off for designers Dorian Cayol and Quentin Barralon when their leather label, Mains d’Œuvre, earned an Honourable Mention award from the accessories jury at this year’s Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography. With a heightened emphasis on contemporary handcrafting, since the introduction of Chanel’s Métiers d’art Prize, the annual showcase for emerging talent was a perfect platform for their debut collection of entirely handmade men’s footwear.

‘We both come from the shoe industry, but we started Mains d’Œuvre to research and manufacture high-end leather goods,’ explains Cayol. ‘So, being at Hyères was like returning to our first job.’ After meeting at Robert Clergerie in Paris, (Cayol developed product that Barralon illustrated), they decided in 2016 to combine their training, invest in machinery and sharpen some new-found leather-working techniques on an edit of luxury wallets, portfolios and bags, before progressing to footwear with this ‘O-pan6’ collection.

Ascension monk shoe, by Hands of Work
Ascension monk shoe, by Mains d’Œuvre

Based in Romans-sur-Isère, capital of France’s leather industry until the 2000s when the collapse of brands like Charles Jourdan and Stephane Kélian drove it into decline, they support local suppliers and keep the area’s craft traditions alive. ‘We share tasks equally, reject hierarchical systems and work with a cooperative model,’ says  Cayol. ‘And it is important that our leathers come from French tanneries, because it ensures the skins are processed in good conditions while minimizing the distance that our raw materials travel.’

Created with long-lasting biodegradable textiles, including linen, cotton and natural rubber, ‘O-pan6’ borrows an old Balkan leather molding method, originally used in traditional opanak slippers, to mimic the injection molded plastic styling of iconic mass-produced shoes. ‘We balance efficient industrial manufacturing with handmade craftsmanship, replicating both technical and ornamental details at the same time.’ They translate the familiar design codes of brands like Nike, and even Crocs, using traditional skills and materials.

What makes Mains d’Œuvre special, and likely appealed to the judges in Hyères, is that their sneaker-inspired sandals, hand-stitched skate shoes and hybrid hiking boots have been taken from concept sketch to finished prototype by the same two pairs of hands. ‘We are designers but also craftsmen, because we mastered every technique,’ says Cayol. ‘Even if we do use factories later, we still spent three years understanding the process from start to finish.’ And discovering that these objects are feasible, let alone so innovative, explains their singular beauty. §

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