Still Life Revival: Leslie Oschmann Has An Artistic Take On Upcycling

Leslie Oschmann gives vintage oil paintings a new life on your shoulder.

Some deem fashion a form of art in itself, but fashion and art blend in the most seamless way when it comes to Leslie Oschmann’s Swarm handbags. She uses vintage oil paintings to create exquisite and colorful bag designs that are full of personality and bits of nostalgia, offering unique arm candy that is given another chance to prove its worth and beauty.

Leslie began experimenting with the re-purposing of oil paintings upon moving to Holland after 8 years as the visual director of Anthropologie.  She first applied the vintage oil paintings scavenged at antique markets for decorating chairs and other furniture such reclaimed dressers and lampshades.

Through handling the versatile canvas material she began to explore the idea of making up a handbag from a painting, and the first try manifested in a fantastic prototype that turned into the successful Swarm line that has been coveted around the world.

Working from her home studio in Amsterdam, Oschmann sources the paintings she uses from markets in Central Europe as well as auctioneers that she works with. She uses every bit of an acquired painting, although often a deconstructed work of art can end up in many different Swarm creations.

The body of the tote and shoulder bags is made from the canvas of an oil painting, while the leather handles are re-purposed from French market baskets, vintage belts or purchased directly from a supplier in the south of Holland. Leslie also makes a clutch version that doubles perfectly as a wallet or letter holder, a Still Life iPad case, and tote and shoulder bags that are a colorful and lively change from your average leather holdall.

Although Leslie’s bags have gained more attention recently, she has been making them for a few years now, allowing her to perfect the art of re-crafting works of art. Increased interest in the bags has brought Leslie to hire on a helper who is proficient with an industrial machine – a necessary tool for sewing the heavy canvas covered in layers of oil-based paint.

Leslie’s bags can be shipped worldwide and are available directly from her site,through Anthropologie’s online shop and from The Shop Floor Project. Although not taking customers’ personal paintings under her transformational wing since she needs to test all her paintings for durability, Leslie is open to crafting custom bags. She will take into consideration a client’s preferred coloring or subject by sending them images of different paintings to choose from.

Just like a bottle of vintage wine, Leslie’s Swarm bags just get better with age, gracefully taking on their new lives as useful, moldable and durable everyday objects.