I headed over to the J. Panther Luggage space, located in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in an old rope factory, to interview English gentleman, Johnny Diamandis. His hospitality was impeccable as he offered me a glass of water, helped me put on my duffle coat when it was time to depart, and sent me off with a minuscule package of swatches and leather product. We even shared a laugh over English lingo (particularly the word “bullocks”). Educational and memorable, the trip to pick the brilliant brain of J. Panther Luggage Co.’s designer was an experience you can’t attain sitting behind a laptop receiving press information to write about.
I launched the brand in late 2010, and my idea was to be super creative and do what I wanted to do instead of reference other brands. I wanted to do original work. I’m a menswear designer by trade and craft and I wanted to focus on really good materials and not just good design. I spend a lot of time sourcing the leather, the canvas, the rivets, the zips—everything. I didn’t want to be price sensitive and I had a feeling if I focused on just making the best possible product I could, then I would find a customer and that customer would find interest in our product. I wanted to do very few items. I wanted to spend a lot of time developing and testing them—one or two products each year. It’s kind of like having a restaurant with six or seven dishes on the menu, but the dishes are just perfect.
What experience do you hope for your customers to have when coming across your product for the first time?
For the first time I want them to be attracted to it in a way they feel it looks like something different to where it’s slightly unusual and quirky. Then I want them to feel, touch, and smell it and have a really good feeling about it. A lot of product now, which is mass produced, lacks character and soul. I want people to really feel a good energy from the product. When they wear it and use it, I want the luggage to be really personal to them and wear down in a way that’s personal to them. It’s almost like your favorite pair of jeans that wears down with you.
What sets J. Panther Luggage apart from its competitors?
I think the fact that we are trying to work on original product that doesn’t even reference necessarily vintage bags or current brands. A lot of brands I see reference items that already exist. What I try to do with J.P.L.C. as much as possible is to try and start with a blank canvas and come up with original shapes, ideas, and create the work to be as original as possible. Not being price-sensitive helps as well, because it means I will do what some bigger brands don’t have the luxury of doing; they have to work within a certain price point. That may change as I grow, but for now, we can work like that.
How did you organize your office space to be functional for your needs?
There’s a lot of fabric, trims, books, so the main thing for me was I needed as much storage as possible, and then to keep it as organized as possible. I needed natural light, because as a designer you’re always looking at fabrics and colors.
What is the process like when creating new design concepts for J.P.L.C.?
It takes me a really long time to design a bag for J.P.L.C. I want to try and come up with a new genre of bags. Obviously something like the rucksack, the weekender, and the tote already exists. What I really love to do is come up with a new thing altogether—create a new category. That’s really hard, because there’s so many talented designers out there and a lot of the areas have already been covered. Sometimes it can be a struggle, because you’re working hard to be super original. In the end, what often happens is I’ll work to do something original based on an existing concept and try to gain originality that way.
What does the word originality mean to you?
It means to me something that hasn’t been done before, but still works and functions as it should. Original work could be important in many aspects. In design and fashion—especially in menswear—it’s super hard. There is a saying that everything’s been done. My dream would be to come up with something completely original and I would be really happy with that.
Do you have a manifesto you live your everyday life by?
I try to live in the present as much as possible and just be grateful for what I have and the way things are, not the way I think things should be.
In a nutshell, what’s your background and how did you get to where you are today?
I’m a menswear designer and my family was in the clothing business when I was a kid. I was used to the fashion industry and I did a little work for them in the factory in London. I chose to take it seriously and did studying in design in London and pursued the craft in the correct way.
I tend to look at a lot of old, pre-1960—even pre-50’s—clothing, particularly from the military. I find this as a never-ending source of inspiration, especially from the U.S., and 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s.
Why those particular eras?
Those particular periods, the amount of incredible design in military clothing around that period for men is just phenomenal. Because of the period being a bit more modern, it’s also very, very wearable. You’ll find beautiful parkas, pea coats, and bomber jackets from the period made incredibly well.
How do you challenge yourself from day to day?
I try to work as hard as possible by being original in my work. I find that very, very challenging. In any design job I’ve had, I’ve always tried my hardest to not allow myself or my team to copy other brands. If we’re going to copy anything, it’s going to be an old 1950’s military item.
Who are your customers?
When I set the brand up, I wanted to create a brand which would appeal to a wide range of people. I didn’t want to have that traditional policy where you target a group. I wanted to do the best products I possibly could and then let my customers almost reveal themselves to me. Seemingly, we have a broad range, from young to old. A recent customer for my best-selling item was a very stylish seventy-four year old Manhattan lady. That’s really what I want to do: have products that appeal to a wide variety of people.
Tell us the story behind the signature component added to each of your bags.
Each piece has a unique bracket overlay shape and the way I arrived to that shape was to take the shape of the top of the panther’s (J.P.L.C.’s logo) ears and the lower part is actually the shape of a woman’s derrière. So I put the two shapes together which are very round, fluid, and sexy and created this unique shape that goes on each and every bag.
Who do you hope will pick up products from your company?
I really like the idea of having this wide variety of people—whether it’s a real fashionista from New York or somebody in their seventies who lives in New Orleans who just loves quality. Someone who is willing to spend the money on something that lasts a long time and doesn’t like throwaway items.
Over to You:
Tell us about a time when you came across a unique product for the first time. How did it make you feel to be able to touch and run your hands across the material of the item, specifically to see if it matched the value you place on quality? We’d like to know about your experience in the comments section below or tweet us your answer.