Richard + John: Life, Well-Made

BY Taylor Rebhan

The secret to designing the ultimate accessory line is simple: Live a lot. For Richard Lambertson that means painting, gardening, entertaining and scouring the ends of the earth for antique treasures. For John Truex, it’s weekends spent in nature, on his horse. It’s tennis one day, skiing the next. And he’ll look for any excuse to get into the ceramics studio and build something with his hands.

Moving and doing and making and exploring are what Richard and John, Shinola’s co-design directors of leather, do best. Their zeal for trying new things is what lured them into fashion — the insights and inspiration they gathered from their exploits is what made them mavericks in their trade.

Read below for more about Richard and John’s hands-on approach to design and life.

“In the world of design, when an idea is thrown out, you’ve got to try it before you say no. I think I approach life that way, too,” John says. While studying advertising at the University of Cincinnati, someone prophetically gifted John with a piece of leather for his birthday. The accessory enthusiast decided to borrow a sewing machine and make a bag out of it. “It still didn’t cross my mind to go into design and fashion,” he says. “I just made the bag out of the love of creating.”


John Truex (pictured above)

That bag, combined with his interest in fine arts, led John to seek a different path when he arrived in New York City a few years later. Rather than pursue a job on Madison Avenue, he answered a help-wanted ad for an office assistant position with renowned Brazilian accessories designer, Carlos Falchi. Within a few years, he’d go on to touch every part of the industry from retail and merchandising to manufacturing and PR, and finally design. “One day there was a design opening in wallets. I started designing accessories and never stopped.”

Richard’s foray into fashion was equally fortuitous. After attending art school and studying dance at Brown, he moved to New York City without a place to live or work. “I got a job at Saks Fifth Avenue my first week. I was walking past the store one night and saw them changing the window displays. It seemed like something I would be good at.”

He arranged a meeting with the senior vice president, and despite his lack of experience, Richard was granted a position in their visual display department. “I didn’t have a conventional background but he took a chance on me because of my travels and extracurricular activities,” Richard says. Gumption probably had something to do with it, too.

Richard was poached by Bergdorf Goodman two years later. Somehow, while working full days at Saks Fifth Avenue, and later Bergdorf Goodman, he managed to find the time to work evenings as Steve Rubell’s production assistant at Studio 54.

From Bergdorf, he went to work for Geoffrey Beene, took a stint at Barney’s, helped re-launch Gucci, then went back to Geoffrey Beene, to Calvin Klein, and back to Bergdorf Goodman to serve as their Creative Director. “I went from job to job over the years but one job led to a greater job and then a greater job. I was very lucky that way—I think I’ve worked everywhere at least twice.” Richard says.

At Geoffrey Beene, while collaborating with designers to produce fashion shows, Richard fell in love with accessories. “I was not a trained designer, so I started taking classes at Parsons and studying shoe design,” he says. “I later went to Italy to learn how to physically make a shoe.”


Richard Lambertson (pictured above)

By the time the two got acquainted in the mid-90s, John and Richard had collectively enjoyed massive success at several major brands. It was time to start their own.

“I was ready to take a chance and do something new. I knew Richard was feeling the same way,” John says. In 1998, they launched their own line of leather accessories. “We were able to start Lambertson Truex because we had such sensitivity towards not only design, retail and merchandising but also manufacturing and distribution.”

A couple of decades and several collections later, that same desire to try something new would bring them to Detroit to help Shinola revive American manufacturing—a pursuit close to their heart.

Where they work has changed, what they work on has evolved, but the way they practice their craft has stayed the same—which is to say, different.

“Within chaos comes my creativity,” says Richard. “John has to devoid himself from chaos to create. We’re kind of opposites that way.”

Richard co-owns a charming shop in Connecticut called Privet House and spends many of his weekends designing the store’s windows and antiquing. He finds great joy in braving crowds at flea markets around the world to stock his well-appointed shop.

John, on the other hand, takes his designer cap off on the weekends. “I am an avid adventurer.” John says. “On Friday nights I don’t even go to the house first, I go straight to the stable to check on my horse. I feed him carrots. I go for a long hack. That’s how I relax. That’s how I find my center,” John is active in the local equestrian community near his weekend home in Connecticut. “On Saturdays we’ll ride all day and catch up on gossip in the horse world. When Monday comes around, I can go back and look at a color with a fresh eye. When I’m faced with a design problem, I’m able to tackle it efficiently.”

Despite neither John nor Richard having intended to go into fashion, the industry has come naturally to them. They had mastered the art of adding beauty, emotion and edge to the world long before they did it professionally. Their lives — much like their accessory line — are rich with color, texture and delightfully unexpected features.


Get updates on products,
people and places we love.

Follow Us On Social