By Meda Kessler
Photos by Meda Kessler
This cowboy artist believes patina is a plus, a little wear and tear is a good thing and that real fashion tells a story.
Chad Isham admits he hasn’t purchased any new clothes in years. But his wardrobe is anything but mundane. It’s just that he prefers patina on a leather vest that comes with age, horn buttons over plastic ones, an imperfect stitch that says handmade instead of mass produced.
His wife, Zuza, shares his love of old over new. Polish born, she treasures the workmanship that has gone into the embroidery of a suede coat or the weave of the sweaters that kept her warm during cold winters in her native country. A writer, she worked in the fashion industry, traveling around Europe until her job brought her to Texas, where she met Chad.
Together, they have channeled their love of vintage into a thriving business, one run from their home in Parker County, where they share acreage with house cats, farm dogs, horses, sheep, a pig named Penelope and a little lamb named Pancho. Thanks to a busy mail-order business, their most frequent visitor is the delivery guy.
There, Chad has turned the guest bedroom in his farmhouse into a workshop, expanding beyond his 1921 Singer sewing machine — he’s self-taught — to an industrial machine built for working with leather and fabrics. A large work table is artfully organized with tools of the trade along with found interesting tchotchkes picked up on their travels. In his younger days, he did leather work and repair as a necessity for his cowboy gear. Today, it’s his livelihood.
Chad fits easily into this country (and western) milieu although life has taken him from Sweden to Mexico. He’s worked on ranches and is still comfortable on a horse, but also wields a mean paintbrush. Today, his side hustle is working as a scenic artist on movie and/or television sets.
But there’s no doubt that he prefers spending time at his workbench, adding leather patch pockets to an overcoat or turning Buffalo nickels into buttons. He’ll turn a belt into a hat band or add a wool collar to a leather motorcycle jacket. Or he’ll make a tote bag from scratch, recycling leather and hardware where he can. “I love items that might have a little wear and tear so I can customize them.”
Chad also has a good eye for vintage pieces that are perfect on their own. He and Zuza browse the internet but also enjoy trips to New Mexico and California to shop their favorite haunts and participate in special markets such as the popular Homespun holiday market in Santa Barbara.
These days, he’s feeling a vintage American (1930s-’60s) vibe. “I like that Ralph Lauren/American West look,” says Chad, who was awed by Utah’s scenery and wide open spaces recently after accompanying Zuza there on a modeling/styling gig for a boot company.
“But mainly I’m looking for things that have soul and are authentic. And while I try not to keep things that I buy, I always look for items that I love.”