Atelier Shazak, reinventing traditional leather skills.

Shazak is the acronym of craftswoman Sofia Haccoun-Zakabloukowa, saddler, harness-maker and upholsterer. Trained by the Compagnons du Devoir, she founded her workshop in 2016 and moved to JAD in September 2022. Specializing in bespoke leatherwork, she champions an experimental approach to the material, both aesthetically and technically, while perpetuating the saddler's craft. This mixed activity is reflected in her current work. 

From October 19th to December 17th, Sofia Haccoun-Zakabloukowa is exhibiting three pieces of harness as part of the exhibition On the road to the Gamesexhibition at La Celle Saint-Cloud. At the same time, her collaborative projects with other JAD designers are presented in the exhibition Pages Blanches. A manifesto exhibition for JAD, it highlights the collaborative research and innovation projects its craftsmen and designers have been working on for almost a year.

You're exhibiting several pieces of harness in the Sur la route des Jeux exhibition at La Celle Saint-Cloud. What is the purpose of this exhibition, and what are the specific features of the pieces you're exhibiting?

With the 2024 Olympic Games just a few months away, the city's Department of Cultural Affairs has taken advantage of its geographical proximity to Versailles - which will host the equestrian games - to showcase the work of artists and designers connected with the world of horses and equestrian sports. The exhibition features works by painters, sculptors and photographers with an artistic approach to equestrianism. At the same time, the exhibition's curator has chosen to highlight horse-related craftsmanship, by presenting three of my creations.

The first is a bridle: a piece of harness that attaches to the horse's head and is used to steer it, which I had already explained in Matières à Penséesthe JAD's inaugural exhibition. The second is a dressage saddle I made this summer. Finally, the third - and most interesting in my opinion - is a shallang, an ornamental element that attaches to the front of the bridle and originally served as a fly repellent. This piece is unique in that it is based on a Hungarian tradition of leather braiding, consisting of a complex system of incised lacing.

To make it, I had to carry out a long and tedious reconstruction, which was all the more interesting as I couldn't find any written archive explaining the technique. I therefore had to rely on old photographs and make numerous attempts to reproduce and master the technique with sufficient ease to give free rein to my creativity. 

Photo credits: Atelier Shazak

Saddlery is an unusual profession. How did you come to choose this skill and leatherwork? 

My history with saddlery is rooted in my passion for horses. Ever since I was a little girl, I've been riding, especially in competition, but always for pleasure. So I came into contact with leather very early on. But at that time, there was no question of me making a career out of it, and at no time, especially when choosing my career path, was manual work presented to me or considered as an option. It was during my military service abroad that I discovered that I knew how to make things with my hands, and that I realized I had a deep love for it. On my return to France, this idea took root, and so it was quite naturally that, a few years later, I turned to saddlery and the Compagnons du Devoir, driven by my passion for horse riding and the desire to belong to a community of craftsmen. 

After several years' training in general saddlery, I pursued my apprenticeship as a self-taught craftsman to master the techniques specific to harnessing. So, in addition to making seats, cushions, wall panels and other interior trim in leather or synthetic coverings, I was soon able to make all the leather parts used for driving a carriage and equipping a horse, such as saddles, harnesses, traces and other accessories mainly dedicated to riding. 

Today, your practice is not limited to saddlery in the traditional sense. How did this expansion of your activity come about? How did you go from being a "traditional" saddler to a creator working in dialogue with designers?

After setting upAtelier Shazak, I had a workshop-boutique in Saint-Cloud. These were certainly formative years, but I didn't have enough time for creation, research and experimentation. But what's most important to me in my practice is to develop my know-how, to bring it into dialogue with other materials and techniques, in order to enhance it and bring it fully into the field of contemporary creation. 

It was with this in mind that I joined the Jardin des métiers d'Art et du Design. I was looking for a new lease of life to help me put creation back at the heart of my business. The proximity to other JAD artisans and designers offered the promise of collaborative projects. For me, these projects are opportunities to open up my know-how to other creative worlds and new fields of application, from fashion to decorative objects and the development of new materials. The decorative marquetry panels combining leather and feathers, created with Marion Gouez, textile designer at JAD, and currently on display in the Pages Blanches exhibition , embody this turning point in my work. 

Photo credits: Léo Sexer

With this in mind, I recently designed the neckline of a molded leather dress for Mugler, worn by Colombian singer Karol G at the Business of Fashion gala. With this type of commission, what interests me is to interpret a creative vision, to translate aesthetic intentions into technical terms, and to do so with my own sensitivity.  

Nonetheless, I often find that to bring these collaborations to life, and to attract designers to me, there's a real need to raise awareness of the saddlery and upholstery trade. Saddlery is in fact a relatively confidential traditional skill, which needs to be publicized and made intelligible so that its full range of techniques and creative potential can be fully exploited.

At the same time, I develop more personal creations, linked to my family heritage. Inspired by forms derived from the living world, and in particular the human body, the pieces I create are, for the most part, made by creating volume in leather using the molding technique. This technical research goes hand in hand with a sensitive approach, through which I seek to retranscribe the movement or living character of the subjects represented. 

Sourcing and re-using your materials is also at the heart of your business. What does this commitment mean in concrete terms? 

Sourcing my leathers is indeed an important facet of my work. Ninety percent of the materials I use are sourced in Europe and come from food recycling. Furthermore, for projects requiring the use of exotic leathers, I only use sourced leathers and refuse to work with farmed hides. Finally, I mainly work with vegetable-tanned leathers, which are much less harmful than chrome tanning, which is a real ecological and humanitarian disaster.

At the same time, we're working with Cédric Breisacher, designer and woodcarver at JAD, on a new material derived from the compression of leather scraps produced in the workshop. This research is based on my knowledge and sensitivity to the material, and draws on the method of material creation applied to woodworking developed by Cédric Breisacher. This research, also presented in the JAD exhibition Pages Blanches, is still in its early stages. It could, however, eventually lead to the development of a method for recovering this waste, estimated at almost 800,000 tonnes per year worldwide. The project also opens up new prospects for leatherworking, since once the material has been brought to volume, it can be cut or sculpted from the mass, opening up new shapes, aesthetics and applications. 

Practical information

On the road to the Games

Exhibition presented from October 19 to December 17, 2023

Exhibition room at La Celle Saint-Cloud town hall 

8E avenue Charles de Gaulle, 78170 La Celle Saint-Cloud, France

Free admission Wednesday to Sunday, 3 to 6 p.m.

White Pages 

Exhibition presented from September 14 to December 03, 2023

Garden of Art and Design

6 Grande Rue, 92310 Sèvres

Free admission Wednesday to Sunday, 2 to 7 p.m.