South Paradiso: Nobody Does It Better

South Paradise Leather

Crafted leather gear is the very essence of rock & roll fashion, and nobody does it better these days than California’s South Paradiso Leather.

Believe it, ‘cos a lot know it already: from Jack White to Britney Spears (ie: a mighty long way down rock & roll), from Devandra Banhart to actors Felicity Huffman and John C. Reilly.

Sex Pistol and 103.1FM’s rockin’ jock Steve Jones is a major South Paradiso fan; recently he had the Paradiso team working away on two new jackets, one featuring the wonderful Wonder Workshop’s Wild Thing imagery on the back a la Iggy on the cover of Raw Power, the other adorned with a Vargas pin-up girl.

All of the above and more flock to Paradiso because mainman Joel Von Stezelberger knows his stuff. With a background in collecting and dealing in vintage clothes, he was inspired into creating new clothes when, in 2000, he came across the incredible jackets made by East West Musical Instruments Company for the likes of Elvis, Iggy and John Bonham.

The White Stripes in South Paradise Leather

Since then Joel has beavered away producing consummate rock & roll flash bearing the South Paradiso brand. The first pieces of clothing utilised East West designs with Joel’s own flourishes, but he quickly came into his own.

“The interesting thing is that I have figured out how to make things even better than East West did,” says Joel. “I use the most expensive leather and other material, and I include even greater detail. I am not putting down the unimaginable greatness of East West, but they had to produce a lot more jackets than I do, and so could not give as much attention to each piece. We spend a lot of time on every single piece.”

Devendra Banhart in South Paradiso Leather

Sometimes a single jacket can take several days to make. “We now have the capability and the expert craftsmanship to use any material, not just leather, and we are not only making jackets,” says Joel. “We have been producing a velvet line for a couple of years; the first time in the history of fashion anyone has made hand-turned and appliqué-d velvets, which is an enormously difficult process.

“We’re doing the same with satin. And our leather belts are intricately detailed, painstakingly hand carved – no stamps – with custom psychedelic paintings, appliqués, and inlays.”

South Paradise Leather jackets

Paradiso’s range now extends to 100-plus jacket designs, handbags, carved leather hats, dresses, dress shirts, capes, necklaces, wallets, fancy guitar straps, home furnishings and – maybe not for Morrissey or Chrissie Hynde’s shopping lists – stuffed leather animals.

Joel has tracked down several of the original craftspeople from East West, as well as wood-burning artist, Kenn Fung, who also worked for the legendary North Beach Leather.

With European sales handled by La Distribuzione and outlets in Japan such as Loveless, United Arrows, Ueno Shokai and American Rag Japan, Paradiso’s emphasis is on the very best materials available, which has an impact on the prices.

“Unlike, say, D&G or new Gucci, which are only expensive because of the brand, our stuff is expensive because it is of the highest quality and greatest detail,” says Joel. “There is no other leather maker who can do the things that I do with my team of freaks, so yes, our pieces are expensive. Very, very expensive. I mean, I can’t even afford this shit!”

Find out more about Joel and his team of freaks at:

Jefferson Thomas said,

March 11, 2009 @ 3:25 am

Forgot to add one critical detail to my above remark, that being:
The mythology of “rock” through fashion & sex appeal has alot to do with the danger inherent – whether it be the inevitable impregnation of your teenage daughter, or worse, by the pulsing and vital crotch of your run of the mill Robert Plant-esque character. Unfortunately for the proponents of this highly fetishized and now quite safe form of music & style, the original thrill is gone, much like how the 30th time you drop LSD is never as mindblowing as the first. Seeing a group, or an individual, who look like Fairport Convention or the Faces in 2009 is sadly as calculated and formulaic an event as say, stroking the goat to Stairway to Heaven.

Regarding the fashion presented by South Paradiso above, I see much technical frippery here which seems like pure wankery ala the flamboyant keyboard excess of (Rick Wakeman-era) Yes. Not to mention isn’t it a bit much in this day and age to continue with the slaughtering of so many cows (and very young calves) for the perpetuation of an irrelevent myth? Cool leather, dude!

“I remember you in Hemlock Road in 1956
You’re a faggy little leather boy, with a smaller piece of stick.

You’re a lashing, smashing hunk of man,
Your sweat shines sweet & strong.

Your organ’s working perfectly, but there’s a part thats not screwed on.

Weren’t you at the Coke convention, back in 1965
You’re the mis-bred grey executive, I’ve seen heavily advertised.

Be wary of these my gentle friends, of all the skins you breed.
They have a tasty habit, they eat the hands that bleed.”

Jefferson Thomas said,

March 11, 2009 @ 3:28 am

“Memo From Turner,” Mick Jagger 1968

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