When Victor Powell handed her the reins of his 50-year-old Provincetown leather shop, Florence Mauclère felt “gratefulness and immense pride,” and, because the moment wasn’t one she’d actually anticipated, there was also a feeling of “pure shock.”
The prospect of following in Powell’s footsteps has been slightly daunting. “Victor was such a profound figure in town,” Mauclère says. “Being a young woman feels like a little bit of a disadvantage.”
The reality is that over the seven years the two worked together, Mauclère absorbed a multitude of techniques and secrets of the trade. That, plus the fact that she is just as passionate about the craft as she was in 2012 when she entered Powell’s shop armed with her own small leather wallets and asked him to teach her what he knew, has steadied her for this first season on her own.
“It is such a treasure to be above the O.C.,” says Mauclère. She occupies what was Powell’s workshop up the stairs behind the Old Colony Tap. “And to have been handed all of these beautiful techniques and tools. I love that this is an art that has been passed down for generations and I get to continue it.”
At the same time that Mauclère’s work builds on Powell’s methods, it also reflects an eye for design that’s all her own.
Her “bucket bag” is cinched and puckered at the top, round and sturdy at the bottom, and just the right size. It was one of the first designs that Mauclère created as she branched out in Powell’s studio. If one keeps a keen eye open on Commercial Street this summer, there are sure to be a few making their way down the street, as it has been one of her most popular pieces.
Working mostly with cow leather (though she does reserve some alligator for pricey custom orders), Mauclère sees her style as the metaphorical Western balance to Powell’s English style. She diverges from his darker, restrained designs by adding more colors, and the occasional fringe, to her pieces.
Reflecting on the nature of her materials, she says that the fact that her “fabric” comes from a once-living animal “used to seem a little creepy.” But now she values the durability of leather and the possibility that the pieces she creates have stories behind them and will accumulate stories over the years.
“I have lots of friends and family members with my belts, sandals, and bags,” says Mauclère. “One of things I love the most is seeing a bag, really worn in, that looks amazing. The older they are, the better they look.”
Building the pieces is, Mauclère says, “a challenge and a game all at once.” The work is exacting — from sourcing skins, to cutting and making patterns, to punching and hand-stitching materials. But at the same time, she says, there is the need to improvise with each piece. It’s important to stay open to the possibility that characteristics of the materials or even small mistakes might lead to fruitful variations.
“I roll with it a lot,” she says. “I like to have patterns that I stick to, but the end product is always different.”
Although she fondly remembers assisting Powell during her apprenticeship years, it’s hard for Mauclère to imagine how he managed to teach her all that he did. Someday, she will pay it forward. But “right now,” she says, “I’m just really into working at my own pace, running my own business, and not teaching anyone.”
Mauclère Leather can be found at 323 Commercial St. in Provincetown.