The bags of Zsuzsa Szász caught my eyes on the shoulder of a friend of mine from Odorheiu Secuiesc, and I have been admiring her works ever since. Zsuzsa graduated from the University of Art and Design of Cluj Napoca, this was were the idea of szasz zsuzsa bags was conceived as her diploma project. In the beginning, her bags were complemented by her own graphic art and had much more vibrant colors, however, the brand changed a lot since then: the unique pieces are now characterized by neutral colors and plain and simple design. She creates the bags herself with traditional sewing techniques in her workshop in Odorheiu Secuiesc. Interview!
Tell us a bit more about this, please: where did this story tart? What inspired you in making bags, and why is it important to you to strive to create the simplest forms possible?
After graduating from university, I moved from Cluj Napoca to Odorheiu Secuiesc, and here I had the possibility to establish a little workshop where I could unfold and evolve. I didn’t really look for a job, I rather dived deep into the world of bag making: as I also chose bag design in my diploma project, it was obvious that I will continue with this.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to acquire the practical part at the university, and so after moving home, I studied the profession of bag making in an autodidact manner. I was eager to create, only the final outcome was missing. At first, my graphical side was more prominent: I printed the patterns made by myself on materials, and sewed bags from linen and combined it with leather. After a while, this transformed into a simple, plain design, where I didn’t only use leather in itself, but also combined it with cord or wood, which is a unique accessory element, and this became the trademark of the brand.
In addition to the simple shapes, your bags are also dominated by grey-black or neutral colors, and as you have mentioned, the use of wooden details: the wooden inlays can be discovered in the handles of the bags and their closing parts. Exactly what types of bags are the basic pieces of the szasz zsuzsa bags brand?
The szasz zsuzsa bags starts from the basic assumption of minimalism that less is more. I design and sew bags that bring a refreshing simplicity to chaos of our days. My aim is to create a timeless product from quality leather that can be recognized anywhere. Elegant, but not rigid, simple, but not boring. Each and every piece is characterized by bold, distinct lines. My bags call attention with their modest appearance, their internal design is practical, complemented by novel solutions, including the magnet hidden in wood, which is also the closing element of the bag.
Practically speaking, my basic pieces are built on two main concepts: I apply the wooden handle solution in one of the concepts and the magnet hidden in wood solution in the other. I make medium and A4-sized crossbody bags and two types of backpacks based on both concepts. In addition to the bags, the collections are always complemented by different wallets, too.
The wooden elements are made of oak for the most part, and the magnet hidden in the wood is very practical as one does not have to tinker with opening and closing continuously, it’s a very simple and quick solution, which I also use in the case of my wallets.
Many times I work on a single product, I continuously improve it, alter it a little and look for its final form. Recently I boosted one of the classic pieces with some playfulness: I pinned a little shadow-like shape behind the wooden magnet on the closing part, in an emphatic red or metallic color. With this solution, the bag becomes brand new for me.
Your brand is not characterized by seasonality, you expand your permanent collection from time to time. One of your latest products is the ever so popular fanny pack.
Yes, currently I have a permanent collection. I made a new product recently, the Ghery fanny pack.
Most of the time I get inspired by sculptural elements and architectural solutions: in this case, I was inspired by the building of Guggenheim in Bilbao. The shape of the building is very futuristic, which makes me think of velocity, energy, powerful lines and progress. I also captured this effect in the fanny pack, which I then paired with a metallic piece of leather. For me, a design is good if it makes me think when I look at it, and makes me curious as to how it fulfils its functional role. I also created a small crossbody bag based on the Ghery fanny pack.
How does the work take place exactly, how do you create the end result from a new prototype?
Initially I contacted several local manufacturers, and so I had the opportunity to gain an insight into the leathersmith profession. This is how the leather bags were made, which I keep altering, polishing and developing since then continuously. I pay great attention to quality materials and precise details. Many times I get inspired during the manufacturing of an existing product to further develop or alter a given detail. In 2017, I won the call of the Start Up Nation program, and I got seven new machines that facilitate high quality and fast production. I expanded my workshop a bit, and I also hired an employee.
In terms of raw materials, initially I only worked with black leather, which I procured from a leather factory in Romania, this way promoting intrastate production. A disadvantage of this, however, is that not all colors and shades are available to me. This way, the basic pieces of szasz zsuzsa bags are available in black-grey, brown, dark red and beige colors. I also try to pay attention to the needs and feedback of customers, which sometimes inspire me (and I only think of functional perspectives here) and also help me improve the quality of the bags.
Your bags cannot only be ordered from you personally, but can also be purchased in Pebs Concept designer store in Brașov, and you can also be found at design fairs, including Materia contemporary design fair in Bucharest. At Materia, you also got a new opportunity: what are your future plans?
I first took part in a design exhibition in Cluj Napoca in 2017, and I can be found at every event there ever since. I participated on the Urban Leather exhibition in 2018, in Bucharest, and then in 2019 at Materia: this is the only Romanian design fair where only leatherware are sold. This is where I won the Dalles Go award, which allowed me to complete a course lead by the most outstanding Romanian bag designer, Otilia Flonta. I would like to refresh and rethink my bags based on my experience gathered at the course, and to further expand my permanent collection.
If you are ever in Transylvania, go and visit Zsuzsa in her workshop, and get a bag from her! Until then, follow the Facebook and Instagram pages of szasz zsuzsa bags:
The CEE RO series presents the work of emerging artists and designers living and working in Romania amongst the countries of the Central-Eastern European region, focusing on the values of the local and progressive design culture.