The first of an ongoing series in which we invite ourselves over to see where artists work.
I live on the top floor of a former luggage factory in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Long turned residential, its apartments are sometimes listed as “luxury lofts,” a claim I find disputable. The building, nevertheless, is ideal for the many artists and artisans who live and work there. One of these people is Jason Ross, whose 1,100-square foot space is filled with the heady scent of leather. Ross, a former model, has recently started making leather accessories under the name Artemas Quibble for the Rick Owens store in Paris, in addition to longtime clients like Donna Karan, Urban Zen, and Henry Beguelin.
Nearly everything in his studio has been altered to Ross’s specifications. “Jason is super particular,” Natasha Chekoudjian, his girlfriend and muse, said when I visited recently. We were sitting at a table covered with burnished animal hide, of his construction. (ABC Home, she told me, is interested in having Ross make furniture for them.) On the walls hang custom-made tools, leather samples, and various odds and ends from antiquing trips, waiting for their moment. “Something can be up there for 10 years,” Ross said. “Then one day I’ll pull it down and turn it into something.” Like a piece of Chinese bronze, or a jeweler’s discarded vise, or an old doorknocker—all of these found objects have been appropriated by Ross and transformed into modern pieces, albeit with borrowed histories.
Components stripped from an antique scale, for example, form the improvised metal closure on a belt Ross made for Rick Owens. “He said he’d never seen anything like that,” Ross said. In the designer’s Paris store currently, you can find six Artemas Quibble pieces—belts, iPad cases, and a leather envelope.
It was actually during the early nineties that Ross, now 46, first became friendly with the designer, when they both lived in L.A. At the time, Ross was an aspiring screenwriter who modeled on the side. He was a cliché, he agreed. “I had long hair,” he said. “I wore these long flowing shirts. And somehow I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t succeeding.”
One night, he caught a documentary on Salvador Dali. The artist had attempted to change his life by shaving off his locks; inspired, and/or at a loss for better ideas, Ross followed suit. Almost immediately, he landed a major modeling gig—the iconic first CK One campaign, which ran in 1995. Ross flew to New York to be shot alongside Kate Moss, Stella Tennant, Trish Goff, Jenny Howarth, and Bijou Phillips by Steven Meisel. “Oh,” he added, “and I got to make out with Veruschka.”
It was a heady time. But he soon found that modeling, like screenwriting, was not really for him. Ross had been designing and installing stone mosaics and in 2005 he started working with leather. “Everything I learned from mosaic I brought to leatherworking,” he said. He got really into ancient methods of working. He even frequented Renaissance fairs for ideas. “Those guys are really serious,” he told me, with all earnestness.
“I want to show you something,” he said, sitting down at his computer. Onscreen, he navigated to the transcript of an interview Rick Owens gave in 1999. In it, the designer says that he doesn’t care to be surrounded by “young people with cute hair cuts … I need old people who know how to make things.”
Ross smiled. “That’s me.”