To take the next step in her current artistic adventure, Anne-Joëlle Galley had to first look into her past.
A leatherworker named Otto Biller, in Mexico City, where she grew up, had left a mark on her memory – and Galley decided to see if she could find his studio, a place where her mother used to shop years ago.
“I still remembered exactly how to get there,” she said. “It was like traveling back in time.”
The shop brought back memories of seeing his beautiful, handmade bags in the 1970s.
“I remember his hands, the roughness of them,” she said. “You could tell how hard he worked by his hands. He was very kind. And the atelier was incredible with all sorts of leathers and interesting bits and pieces.”
Galley kept the bags Biller made for her mother – and has continued to marvel at the fine craftsmanship of the artisan who works primarily in leather.
When Galley returned to find the atelier on a recent trip, she discovered that Biller’s son Daniel has carried on in his father’s footsteps.
“The shop is in the same place, but now Daniel runs it,” Galley said.
Inspired by their meeting, she asked Daniel to partner with her on a new venture.
First, Biller created small evening bags, using a mix of leather and silk from Anne-Joëlle Designs.
Now, Galley has commissioned Daniel to create finely crafted backpacks, which will become a canvas for Galley. She will complete a unique painting on each bag – and each customer will walk away with a totally original, wearable art piece.
The bags will be available online at www.annejoelledesigns.com.
Galley has already made her mark on the fashion world by transforming her internationally celebrated paintings and prints into colorful, high-end, luxury scarves. She also incorporated her work into purses and shoes for her company Anne-Joëlle Designs.
She is excited about her partnership with Daniel Biller – and showcasing the legacy of his family business.
“He’s got quite an amazing story,” Galley said.
Before Daniel was born, his parents lived a life worthy of a big screen adaptation.
Otto was born in Budapest, Hungary, before moving to Paris at age 15, where he eventually joined the French army prior to World War II.
Daniel’s mother Gertudis fled Vienna with her family jewels sown into her coat by her mother when Hitler invaded Austria.
She stayed briefly in Switzerland before eventually moving to Paris, where she met Otto. They married 15 days later.
They lived together with false papers, until Otto was detained and sent to the Drancy internment camp. He fell ill and was sent to a hospital, where he escaped, saving him from being transferred to Auschwitz.
The couple survived the rest of the war together hiding in Perpignan in the south of France, while most of their relatives died in concentration camps.
After the war, they sold everything they owned and emigrated to Mexico, where Biller started his leather atelier in 1959. Daniel was born a year later.
Working with Daniel has been an ideal partnership, Galley said.
“He has an eye for what’s good, and he is detail-oriented,” she said. “At the same time, he’s extremely creative. I give him my ideas, we discuss them, and he comes up with ways to make things work and tells me what isn’t possible. He is easy to work with, which makes each project so much fun.”
The process is also emotional, she admitted, as the two artists talk about the past.
The artist who works in small, limited edition batches – and Daniel is interested in accommodating her unique, time-consuming process.
“I want everything I make to be exclusive,” Galley said. “I only do limited editions of the scarves. When one that batch is finished, then I do another design. There’s always variety. The bags will be the same way. You are really going to be wearing something unique.”
And you can rest assured, no one else will have the same bag – or scarf.
To shop styles and learn more about Anne-Joëlle Designs, visit annejoelledesigns.com
For more information about Daniel Biller, visit www.danielbillermx.com.