Filson, Seattle

These days, plenty of companies in the United States are touting their status as heritage brands, as is the current fashion, but markedly few who can claim the kind of pride of place that Filson can: Since the outdoor apparel label was founded in Seattle back in 1897, it’s never moved more than two miles away from where it began, in what’s now known as the city’s SoDo neighborhood — nor has it stopped manufacturing most of its wares there, either. Having long occupied a complex in the up-and-coming industrial area that included its factory, headquarters, and flagship store, last year the expansion of its business led it to annex a nearly 60,000 square-foot building just two blocks away from the original. “We’ve been in SoDo for 117 years, so it feels like home,” says Filson CEO Alan Kirk, a Scotland native who moved to the city in 2009. “It’s one of the few areas left in the city that still has manufacturing — in a way it’s the garment district of old Seattle.”
Another beautiful custom machine. Mykita’s proprietary process has one big upside, among others, for consumers: no gaudy logos on its frames. “Our logo is our technique,” says Thamm. “You can easily recognize Mykita frames by their shapes, which is because of our techniques. Our hinge is our basic signature.”

Mykita’s Berlin Headquarters

Just a few blocks from the three-story factory where Mykita eyeglasses are designed, prototyped, and assembled by hand by a team of skilled workers, there’s a world-renowned contemporary art museum currently showing works inspired by Joseph Beuys’s vision of the future. There’s a new bar where fancy hipsters go to sip $15 Moscow mules, and more than a few new “luxury” condo buildings, which have begun sprouting like weeds in the area in the past five years. That’s about when Mykita moved its headquarters to their current location in the middle of Berlin’s Mitte neighborhood, which is basically the New York equivalent of setting up shop in Soho. It doesn’t actually manufacture from scratch there the metal and acrylic frames that are its signature — the parts are sent up in flat batches from South Germany — but it does just about everything else that’s required to construct and ship out between 600 and 1,000 pairs of glasses per day to the likes of Colette and Opening Ceremony. “It’s a business philosophy for Mykita that everything is under one roof,” says Lisa Thamm, head of Mykita PR, who gave us a tour of the factory this past June. “It’s actually easier that way, especially when your graphics team, your designers, everybody is really into detail.”

Carly Mayer: The Window

From Monday through Thursday of this week, Sight Unseen is featuring a documentary project by British sculptor Carly Mayer, who indulged her personal curiosity about the factories surrounding her home in Brighton, England, by inviting herself over to photograph their inner workings. For the fourth and final installment, Mayer roams around a small window workshop called Balcombe Glass. ""From an artistic standpoint, I can’t help but find glass beautiful in its most polished and righteous state," she says. "I spent a long time staring at the stock, imagining the pieces as sculptures in their own right. The machinery used to cut the glass fascinated me as well; I expected it to appear menacing and sharp whereas in truth it stood rather friendly, allowing me to photograph its rubber stoppers used to hold the glass firmly in place during production."

Carly Mayer: The Ratchet Strap

From Monday through Thursday of this week, Sight Unseen is featuring a documentary project by British sculptor Carly Mayer, who indulged her personal curiosity about the factories surrounding her home in Brighton, England, by inviting herself over to photograph their inner workings. Today she explores the making of the humble ratchet strap, overlooked by many but essential to some. "Personally, I had never given the humble ratchet strap much thought," Mayer writes. "It serves a purpose not universal or common, but practical and specialist. Most of us would never have any need for one. As I ventured into the factory, I was greeted by several heavy-duty sewing machines, and unlike the typical assembly line, a more fractured setup, with pods of people working on specific tasks. The stacks of brightly colored, coiled strapping looked like massive sweets in an out-of-scale candy shop."

Carly Mayer: The Firework

From Monday through Thursday of this week, Sight Unseen is featuring a documentary project by British sculptor Carly Mayer, who indulged her personal curiosity about the factories surrounding her home in Brighton, England, by inviting herself over to photograph their inner workings. "Wells fireworks is, strangely enough, situated on the Duke of Norfolk’s estate in Arundel in West Sussex," Mayer says of today's installment. "What looks like a familiar farmhouse outbuilding with a stunning countryside backdrop is actually home to a successful pyrotechnic manufacturing plant. The business was originally started in 1837 by Joseph Wells — after he'd made a living as an explosive-lighter on the River Thames in London, but long before the Pussycat Dolls' tour would benefit from his company's products."

Carly Mayer: The Roof Tile

From Monday through Thursday of this week, Sight Unseen is featuring a documentary project by British sculptor Carly Mayer, who indulged her personal curiosity about the factories surrounding her home in Brighton, England, by inviting herself over to photograph their inner workings. First up is the Keymer roof-tile factory. "Keymer is set back into the beautiful countryside of Burgess Hill, Sussex," Mayer writes. "Upon approaching the factory, the first thing that strikes you is the massive abundance of crates stacked with perfectly formed and notably familiar roof tiles. The next would be the sheer size of this 50-acre site, one of the oldest surviving brick and tile companies still laboring from a clay pit, which reaches as far as the eye can see. The business itself traces back to 1588 and was moved to its current site in 1860, exactly where I stood with my digital SLR camera. There was an instant sense of being thrown full-pelt back in time, as the whole essence of the operation was so delicately preserved. It gave me a child-like desire to pick up a stick and explore."
Zieta may be a designer, but he’s first and foremost a researcher: He’s spent the past eight years working on his PhD while refining the industrial processes behind his FiDU technology, the fact that he ended up with a hit furniture line on his hands being merely a bonus. At least part of that focus can be credited to his geneology: “My grandpa was a metalsmith, in a very, very old way," he says. "He made horseshoes, and we make this very innovative and modern art.”

Oskar Zieta’s Metal-inflating Facility

When Oskar Zieta was given the honor of creating a site-specific installation in the Victoria & Albert Museum’s sprawling central garden during this year’s London Design Festival, he had a fairly significant advantage. With his own high-tech metalworking factory in Poland capable of producing large-scale inflated-steel structures, he had the means to fabricate whatever flight of fancy he and his team might possibly dream up, no matter how ambitious. And yet standing in his way was an obstacle far more prosaic in nature, one it would take ingenuity moreso than technological muscle to surmount: teeny tiny doorways. “The doors were really small, and all the ideas of getting to the garden by a helicopter or by a crane had to be rejected because of the risk of destroying the museum’s façade,” he told the fair’s bloggers at the time. But for someone like Zieta — who’s spent the past eight years monomaniacally experimenting with the proportions of the metal sheets he welds at the edges and then blasts full of air — it read like an intellectual call to arms.
Gin is made all over the world these days, from New Zealand to France. But Hendrick’s, owned by William Grant & Sons, is the only gin distillery in Scotland. Located an hour’s drive outside of Glasgow, the Hendrick’s headquarters stand on 380 acres overlooking Ailsa Bay, the body of water that’s home to Ailsa Craig — the island where blue hone granite is harvested to make curling stones.

Hendrick’s Gin in Girvan, Scotland

The word most often associated with Hendrick’s gin is “unusual,” and there’s good reason for it. Consider the brand’s peculiar visual identity, created by adman Steven Grasse, which collages together semi-Surrealist, mock-Victorian illustrations of naked women in martini glasses, men in dunce caps, butterflies, knights, monocles, trombones, scales, strange machines, roses, and cucumbers. Or the collaborations, most notably with the London-based gelatin artists Bompas & Parr, who in addition to creating a gin-flavored jelly, recently concocted a chewing gum that tastes just like a G&T. And then there are the events: Hendrick’s doesn’t much do the usual cocktail competitions, choosing instead to host croquet matches in the summer and curling duels in the winter. It would all seem like a gimmick, except that for Hendrick’s, which launched a little more than a decade ago, there’s truth in advertising: The gin really is manufactured differently than any other spirit on the market, as we found out when we were invited to the factory in Girvan, Scotland, earlier this month.
Our tour began on the third floor of Lobmeyr’s Kartnerstrasse showroom, which acts as a museum of sorts for the company’s extensive back catalogue. Glass cases filled with tumblers, drinking sets, and dishes line the perimeter of a narrow circular walkway, and in the middle is this copper-wheel engraving lathe — the first to be used by the company in the early 19th century. It’s almost exactly like the one that’s used today. “It hasn’t really changed in the last 300 years,” Rath laughs. Its variously sized spindles and discs are used to create a variety of textures and line effects on the surface of glass.

J. & L. Lobmeyr

Since its founding six generations ago, Lobmeyr has tended to follow its own compass rather than listening to the whims of the market — in other words, it’s never been afraid to be a little bit different. It’s why the company moved from its original role as glass merchants to manufacturers; what inspired a relationship with the radical designers of the Wiener Werkstätte; and why the company today collaborates with designers like Polka, whose 2008 beer glasses boast an engraving based on the goals scored during a 1978 soccer match between Austria and Germany.
Readymade hats, waiting to be packed and shipped, line the main workroom.

Mühlbauer Headwear

If you’ve recently strolled through the streets of Vienna’s city center, chances are you’re familiar with Mühlbauer, the 107-year-old hat-maker whose two flagships, tiny jewelboxes designed by the German-Italian architect duo Kühn Malvezzi, are located just a stone’s throw from Adolf Loos’s infamous American Bar. Ditto if you’ve been paying attention to the ever-changing hat wardrobe of Brad Pitt — who’s a fan — or if you’ve been shopping for accessories in chic department stores from Bergdorf’s to Le Bon Marché. The millinery has made such a name for itself in the past few years, collaborating with cult fashion labels like Fabrics Interseason and outfitting the likes of Yoko Ono and Meryl Streep, it’s hard to believe that in 2001, when Klaus Mühlbauer took over the company with his sister Marlies, “nobody even knew that Mühlbauer was related to hats,” he says.
The oldest part of the factory. "What you're looking at are very basic machines used in the first production steps," Salvati explains. "The machines in the back where you see the red signs are Weinigs, a German machine from 1986 that's used to make grooves in straight planks and to take the roughness away from raw material. We make production runs on the CNC machines, but for smaller runs, we'll also make finger joints on the green machines in front."

Mattiazzi's Udine Headquarters

An hour east of Venice, in the province of Udine, Italy, three small outlying villages make up an area quaintly known as “The Chair Triangle.” For centuries, the municipalities of Manzano, Corno di Rosazzo, and San Giovani al Natisone have been home to workshops and factories, woodworkers and artisans, tool-makers and sawmills, all devoted to producing the more than 40 million chairs that emerge each year from the region. The city of Udine itself is no slouch in the manufacturing department — it’s home to Moroso, one of Italy’s most storied brands — but the chair triangle is known more for its specialized production and for manufacturers who do anonymous, subcontracted work for the big brands.
Sandro Desii’s laminated pastas are made on machines nearly as old as the company itself. The dough — a mix of semolina flour and egg, plus high-quality ingredients that range from death trumpet mushrooms to fresh chives — is poured into metal tanks, then roller-pressed into thin sheets three times over to achieve the perfect texture and thickness.

Sandro Desii

In the mountains north of Barcelona, deep in the heart of Catalonia, a renowned gastronomer toils in an experimental food lab, researching and testing dozens of flavors each year. Beloved by his peers, he has thousands of loyal fans. But he is not Ferran Adrìa.