In a tiny studio high above Hobart, sits a young woman hunched over her journal. The room is neat, quiet, and almost too organised. She works to the tune of her breathing and uses the harmony of the soft natural south-facing light that freely floods her space. Lush indoor plants thrive in her company. She is happy.
This is the life of Hungarian born Ivett Dodd. Ivi is a talented creator, taking high end boutiques by storm with her penchant for bespoke leather accessories. To understand the roots of her unique brand, ivi made, one must dive below the surface and deep into the realm of Ivi’s past.
“I had what I think was a special way of growing up,” smiles Ivi. “After the fall of the iron curtain, my parents had a travel agency. They would run group tours, and I would go along too…we went everywhere. This had a huge influence on me as they seasoned me to be a traveller and really set the scene for me to live in another culture.”
Ivi sites another defining factor growing up. “I read a lot as a child and had a favourite author who delved into long descriptions of landscapes. They painted beautiful pictures in my mind. From there, thanks to my grandmother’s collection, I went on to read a lot of the classics, especially Russian realism. I love exploring and questioning, whether it be via travel, work or through literature.”
Ivi first visited Tasmania in 2005 and ‘loved it instantly’. “Even back then, I had a long held plan to return and live here. It just took me a few years to action it. Now I’ve made it happen and I haven’t regretted it for a moment.”
It’s almost hard to believe this articulate artist grew up versed in another language, however the journey to call Tassie home began with her arrival in Sydney to learn English. “I also studied art and design. It complimented what I had learnt in Hungary where I attended a secondary school that specialised in tapestry, painting and drawing. With that experience I decided I wanted to create objects of use rather than those just for artistic purposes alone.”
A stint at the Melbourne School of Fashion provided Ivi with just what she needed to launch a career with an edgy, avant-garde fashion label. Working under celebrated designers Susan Dimasi and Chantal McDonald saw the birth of a whole new love. “I adored spending day after day hand stitching beautiful dresses. It was then that I realised things could really happen here in Australia and that sowed a seed for the future.”
Returning to Hungary to try her hand at her own fashion label, Ivi centred on creating a vegan label with zero waste. “At that time I was vegan and that was something really important to me. I worked with natural fabrics such as hemp, cotton and bamboo and invested heavily in hand embroidery. I also really drew upon the Hungarian textile culture and ended up having some great experiences, such as attending Berlin Fashion Week. But eventually I came to dislike the huge distances between my designs and my makers…I had the most talented team of makers I could wish for, they were truly amazing, but I wished for nothing more than having that hands on connection.”
Ivi explains how a true sense of connection remains central to her work. “I can’t separate the design and making processes. For me, they feed off each other like a conversation. I wanted to keep things all under the one roof.”
Finally heading back to Tasmania, Ivi set about finding a new creative groove. “By then I realised veganism was not working for my body and so I started questioning the overall philosophy too. I was looking for something that was in harmony with the environment as I felt that was key to my future work. It was very important to me that whatever I did next was sustainable and that it contributed to healing the relationship between us and the environment.”
Discovering kangaroo leather was a turning point. “Kangaroos are occurring in plague proportions in various parts of Australia and this is one way to utilise a by-product. The leather I use is ethically sourced and only the males are culled. This population control helps maintain environmental balance and maintain biodiversity. I only use leather tanned with plant material as it’s biodegradable. Chrome tanning is terrible for the environment.”
Kangaroo leather has incredible texture. “The animals collect scars throughout their lives and when I’m working with it I love imagining their characters and their experiences. So many people are after beauty and quality, but they also want to know where it comes from,” says Ivi purposefully. “Often we don’t know the chain of events behind our products and I am someone really interested in that concept. I design to respect the materials I have at hand and everything I have made here is my own work. I haven’t completed any leatherwork courses as I enjoy problem solving for myself and finding innovative solutions to the challenges I encounter.”
“I’ve always been inspired by how people could live in harmony with the natural world,” Ivi muses. “Healing, creating, connection and moving forward. I draw from those as design principles and I’m very hopeful that others are moving in that direction too. Everything I make is through my own hands, and is a combination of hand stitching and help from my Japanese sewing machine. It’s designed specifically for leather and it is a dream to work with.
Ivi’s stunning range of bespoke leather accessories is quickly becoming sought after by boutiques around the globe. “People are responding to my solutions and to the philosophy of simplifying everyday life. I spend hours perfecting my designs to ensure they not only satisfy my particular aesthetic but are highly functional as well.” Citing some recent examples Ivi says, “My palindrome cardholders look incredibly simple but they are the result of a well resolved project. The design is chic, but the leather expands as required to hold as many cards as you need. Likewise, my backpacks have many hours of design and testing behind them. They are ergonomically perfected to be both light and comfortable but can hold a significant amount of weight. You almost don’t feel the weight of your belongings and I find they function far better than high tech designs that are produced en masse. To me it’s about balancing form and function with style and simplicity.”
Ivi’s attention to detail and level of perfectionism is extreme. From Tasmanian Oak panel inserts, unique magnetic clasps and cutting edge accordion openings, her leather accessories have a style all of their own. The deliberate and quiet manner with which she carefully chooses her words filters down into her art. “It’s just me finding solutions to everyday life in a sustainable way,” she grins shyly.
“I find it’s not about creating new products all the time. I prefer to spend my time in refining the ones I have. I love the challenge of pure resolution. Leather is difficult to work with in the sense that it’s very unforgiving. If I make a mistake when stitching, then I lose that piece of leather…it’s not like a fabric that you can unpick and start again.”
Alone on her workbench, a custom timber table lightly peppered with neat needle marks, sits a design that’s become a calling card of her current style. Ivi has applied a splattered ‘galaxy effect’ to many of her products. “I spray some of the leather with a dye,” she explains. “I was inspired by an old painting of mine and I just love getting lost in that effect. It’s proved very popular too, with others enjoying the contrast of the two colours against one another. I’ve recently sent a big batch of my work to a sustainable fashion warehouse in New York.” Her eyes smile gently, “That was pretty exciting.”
Recently marrying her Tasmanian partner, Ivi has had a whirlwind 12 months – bringing family together from across the globe for her Tassie nuptials being almost the easiest of the challenges to balance. “I set up the studio here as we are building our own straw bale house in the Derwent Valley at the moment and I needed to move my work somewhere. I’m also currently dividing my time between here and a few days’ work each week at MONA. I absolutely love it there and find it almost a necessity for my soul to be absorbed in that artistic community.” Strikingly honest, Ivi explains openly, “It can be isolating being a designer, so it’s important I get out and mix with others who are likeminded. I love daydreaming and being lost in art…I’m also painting again now myself which helps fuel my own creativity.”
As one could imagine, her busy schedule occasionally takes its toll on Ivi’s wellbeing. “One thing I’ve learned is that I need to focus on mindfulness. I can’t make high quality objects if I’m not calm, present and engrossed in my work. There was a tricky time recently with the wedding arrangements that really challenged that, but I moved through it. Having my grandmother attend was so special. I’m so glad she made the trip out here, it really made it for me.”
Gazing wistfully out her studio window Ivi finishes, “Although this space is small, I really love seeing the mountain while I work. Right now I feel so lucky as I can enjoy so many different segments of my life and I have a wonderful balance of work and creativity. I’m hoping maybe one day in the future when we finish the house I might be able to create a studio in my garden. Then I can invite others to come and enjoy my space with me.”