Peter Buchanan-Smith is a guy with serious graphic design chops – a CV that includes art direction at The New York Times, writing two books and a Grammy for his work on an album cover for the band Wilco. But it’s the artisanal axes and luxury outdoor gear that make up his Best Made Co. that bring him to Myers Park menswear clothier Tabor on Saturday, Nov. 12.
He’s headlining the store’s “Base Camp” event, along with lifestyle-brand (Lost Explorer) creator-with-environmental-interests David de Rothschild. The event runs 12-5 p.m., and the two speak in a panel discussion 4-5 p.m. Ten percent of all sales at Tabor Saturday will go to charity – 5 percent to YMCA Camp Thunderbird and 5 percent to the Catawba Lands Conservancy.
Budget items for your favorite Eagle Scout these are not: Best Made sells mini flashlights for $98 and a 60-inch measuring tape in a solid-brass case (engraved with “MEASURE TWICE / CUT ONCE”) goes for $58. Apparel ranges from $38 tees and $98 sweatshirts to $800 parkas.
We e-chatted with Buchanan-Smith about his symbolic and literal hopes for the axes he creates – he has both – along with his quest to get people outside and the last great trip he took. His goods will be in a pop-up store in Tabor through the beginning of December.
Q. What experiences in your life inspired you to create goods for the outdoors? What power do the outdoors hold for you?
A. Quality and utility are inextricably linked: cutting wood with a dull axe sucks! I grew up on a small farm in Canada where I had to depend on tools – especially an axe – everyday. On the farm, and traipsing around the Canadian north woods, I grew a fond appreciation for quality tools and outdoor gear. Well made gear inspires me to get outside, and that’s where I believe we are all happiest.
Q. The axe appears to be central to your brand. (These run about $90 to $350 and come unfinished or in vari-colored handle designs with names such as “Fortitude” and “Hushabye Baby.”) Where did your connection with the axe come from, and what do you hope happens to the ones you sell? Do you mean them as symbolic, or to be actually used?
A. Our axes – which are our design and made exclusively for us by a 4th generation forge in North Carolina – are the finest axe made in the USA, if not the world. In short, our axes are meant to be used for all the things you’d intend (chopping and splitting wood and felling trees). The axe itself is such a powerful symbol: it’s the oldest tool known to humankind, it’s the tool that built this country, and as such I truly believe it’s embedded in our DNA. Observe the look on someone’s face who has never held an axe and you’ll know what I mean. Hanging on the wall of a toolshed or a living room, a good axe is a window into another world where we long to be.
Q. Your book “Speck: A Curious Collection of Uncommon Things” challenges readers to see common things in uncommon ways. Is it hard to get people to respond to, say, a beautifully made tape measure, when most have never thought of something like that as being an object of beauty?
A. At their best, everyday objects should transcend the banal and monotonous. It’s easy to take what’s immediately around us for granted, simply because it’s there. On some level, I’ve made my career uncovering the magic of “what’s there.”
Q. You’ve done so much design work on behalf of other individuals or publications, musicians, etc. What was it like to be your own client, so to speak, when hatching a product line?
A. I always remind our team that Best Made is bigger than all of us, so in that sense I see myself answering to a mission higher than myself: to empower people with product that will get them outside. Ironically, the freedom to create whatever you want only comes if there are constraints in place.
Q. Tell us about your own outdoors exploration. What was your most recent trip?
A. The last big trip I took was to shoot our current catalogs in the Yukon and coastal British Columbia. Most of my trips lately are to document and test our gear, and that’s taken me all over the world. I count myself blessed to have that opportunity.