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Laying the keel

1

“And I can recall our caravel:
a little wicker beetle shell
with four fine masts and lateen sails,
its bearings on Cair Paravel.” 2


The Gist.

We make things, unlikely things, in small quantities, mostly by hand, and in a place where it is expensive to do this. The second edition Lapera DS is available now for pre-sale and the price is $12k Canadian. This is a lot by any measure, but not, we feel, and if you understand the process, by any means excessive.

The Longer Version.

I grew up in England in a place where they used to build working sailing ships. It was on the estuary of a minor river and the boats were smallish, made of wood, and slightly dogged. The pubs had nautical names and low tide revealed a collection of rubber boots claimed from the unwise and unwary by the estuary mud. There was a rose-covered bower at the bottom of our garden made from an old rowing dinghy, its stern buried in the ground, and a mysterious sail loft, far larger than the surrounding houses, towered over the garden wall. All that was left of the industry along the waterfront was a collection of empty sheds, crumbling quays, collapsing slipways and a strong air of pathos – now of course all erased by rather unimaginative imitation Victorian housing estates, definitely colder, if not also sadder than what was there before. As with many other places in the West, industry, not to be confused with industriousness, has moved on: where I come from they don’t make much of anything anymore.

I like boats. You may have noticed. There are similar distinctions to be made in boat building as there are in the making of coffee machines. There is a world of difference between “a silent, sweet sailboat slipping through the cool water”3 and a hole in the water lined with wood. Unlike espresso machines (no matter how you feel about your morning coffee), boats have that edge of life-and-death about them: if the water is cold, if it is deep, and most especially if it is angry, you very much want to be in a tight ship and not a wood-lined hole. Both coffee machines and sailboats are outdated technology: one is essentially a steam engine and the other has, well, sails. Coffee machines however, unlike sailboats (beautiful and graceful as they may be), retain a deep relevance to contemporary society: rather more people drink coffee at work than sail to get there. Ultimately, both sailboats and coffee machines are cultural as well as technical objects, inextricably tied to their time and place and to the people who make and use them. How something is made, how deeply its maker understands it and how closely that person is connected to the people who will ultimately use it, are, in my view at least, important. Put simply, culture is difficult, if not impossible, to outsource.

The city of Montreal dates back to the French colonial fur trade and has always been heavily enmeshed in the textile industry. My first three studio spaces in Montreal were in former textile and fur lofts in the old part of the city. The building in Montreal’s Mile End, where Laperas are made, was a leather goods factory (which had been variously and previously: a car wash, a body and transmission shop, a gas station and a stable). Historically, Mile End served as a gateway to successive waves of European immigration. After the second world war, the textile industry grew rapidly until it drew a nearly twenty-thousand strong labour force from the mostly European diasporas (Jews, Greeks, Portuguese, Italians) of the immediate surrounding populations. As with many other kinds of manufacturing, low overseas labour costs coupled with dirt-cheap containerized shipping led at first to the slow decline and then the rapid collapse of the local needlework trade. The loss of tens of thousands of jobs almost overnight had a huge impact on the people who worked there, and left a ghost town of empty factories. Into that vacuum rushed the artists, tech startups and other post-industrial actors in search of cheap space. Now the main industry in the area (other than flat whites) is video games; as about as post-industrial as it gets. The vast flow of European immigrants has left its mark on the neighborhood in the form of churches and synagogues, bakeries and delis, the world’s best bagels (sorry New York, you’re just wrong) and, of course, proper coffee.

Da capo al fine is an Italian term (all the good ones are) in music, meaning “repeat from the beginning” (literally “from the head to the end”), or, as Humphrey Bogart actually didn’t say in Casablanca: “Play it again, Sam.” So, after a few months spent sweeping under the tables, sharpening the chisels and polishing the chandeliers, it is time to take it from the top. We have come full circle and are laying the keels of the second edition Lapera DS: twelve serial numbers from 0010 to 0021. Based on the experience gained during the production of the first edition and the feedback from the Founders’ Circle owners, this edition will have quite a few tweaks to improve, refine and better what can be improved, refined and bettered. So we’re playing it again, Sam, only a little bit better. The price, from beam to beam and stem to stern, is $12k Canadian. A lot, I know, but they don’t build ’em like this anymore. The edition should ship, if all goes well, in the first part of 2022.

For aforementioned unscientific and capricious reasons, the majority of this edition is already spoken for. There are still a few machines in search of a good home however, so please get in touch if you would like one. 

Thomas


(1) Howard Chapelle, 10 ft Rowing and Sailing Dinghy
(2) Joanna Newsom, Bridges and Balloons
(3) Annie Proulx, The Shipping News


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