In a repurposed studio tucked into a 1920s farmhouse atop Maury Island, William Cleaver, aka Wild Bill, has been making unique leather pieces for more than 20 years. His work has included belts, chokers and clutches for Ralph Lauren; bags for Filson, Eddie Bauer and Sundance; leather props for films such as Little Women (1994) and We’re No Angels (1989); and even full Victorian cowboy garb—hat, chaps and all.
“If I ever have a spare minute, I make something,” says Cleaver, a Washington native who grew up fishing and camping in remote areas of the West. He acquired a vintage pistol when working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska and—upon his return to Washington—began experimenting with crafting a historically accurate leather gun holster, which became the catalyst for re-creating the historical Western leatherwear that eventually got him noticed by the fashion world.
History, in general, is a big source of inspiration for Cleaver, who has never been interested in the purely decorative. He studied paintings by Western artist Frederic Remington and other Western pieces—even challenging himself to re-create a belt worn by Buffalo Bill Cody in his Wild West shows. Cleaver is now calling upon his years of expertise to focus on something new: leather cuffs and bracelets, for men and women, bearing positive messages (such as “resist” and “elevate”) on metal plating ($40–$70; wmhenri.com). “The reason I’m making these bracelets is because they’re small,” says Cleaver. “I can take all that technique into a nice, little affordable piece.”
Cleaver’s unisex cuffs and bracelets can be smooth, studded, embossed or even printed with an ink design—all by his own hand. He’s learning that simplicity is beauty as he carefully considers his growing accessory line, pondering ideas such as incorporating different materials and formulating designs with positive messages in other languages. “The people that gravitate to my work are young and old with taste,” he jokes.
We couldn’t agree more and can’t wait to see what he thinks of next.