William Gibson, the prophet of Cyberpunk, labeled one of Bob Basset's masks "Probably the single best steampunk object I've seen", an intriguing endorsement. Steampunk being that weird interest in fantasy and Victorian sci-fi. Basset's masks seem incredibly complicated and some have inbuilt cooling systems, 3D-glasses and built-in lasers.
Turns out Bob Basset is a leather workshop, based in the small town of Kharkov, Ukraine, lead by an autodidactic eccentric person who didn't want to send us a picture of himself, or his team, but really likes dogs.
Vice: Hello Bob Basset. Since you're from Ukraine, I imagine that's not what you're mum named you, who are you really?
Bob Basset: My name is Oleg Petrov, but most people know me as Bob Basset - it's my nickname. It came from the name of my dog who was a Basset Hound and was called Bob. He was my friend for many, many years. I love dogs. When me and my team were thinking of a good name for our workshop, we just chose that one.
Fair enough. So do you have a leather craftsman background?
I have been working with leather for over 20 years, so it is my background. I have read old books about leather, chemistry and technology. My main speciality is metallurgy. Apart from leather, we are working with metal, stone, wood, ceramic and glass. There was a bit of fuss when we made some sapphire knives.
Wow. What is it that inspires you to make tons of these extremely detailed, pretty scary-looking objects?
It's difficult to say what inspires me. When I'm developing something, I try and keep isolated - I don't talk, don't read art books, blogs, or watch the news or films - so that I'm sure, the idea is mine alone.
Most of my products have never been made before, It's about accepting a challenge and asking myself "Can I or can't I do it?" I like to resolve almost impossible tasks, and when I finish an item I lose interest and have to have a new goal. Because of this I do not like to repeat things I've done already. I'd prefer to try something new and go forward. I have a workshop and a team of crazy people who like to do these things together with me.
Sounds awesome. What kind of people buy your masks?
Usually I don’t know who my customers are exactly, and what the masks are for. I actually only sell on eBay and Makers Market. I think most of them are in the USA, UK, France and Germany. But there are also private orders for masks and suits by DJs, photographers, and actors for work in a show or on stage. Of the famous people I know about, KORN's keyboardist, Zac Baird, wears my masks. And in December 2009, the studio of Ridley Scott Associates bought four masks for a short film called The Gift. Cory Doctorow, the postcyberpunk and science fiction author, is a big customer too.
It must take a lot of time and money to make a mask, right?
Actually, a mask can cost as little as a dollar, plus shipping costs. All the prices are the result of a customer's wants. We can make a mask in one day, it can also take several years.
Wow, what's the longest time you've worked on a product?
It is still not finished.
Jeez, looking forward to seeing that one! So how much of this is a about weird sex fetishes?
Yes, as is in all objects, if you see sex and fetish in our products, it's there. If not, it is just not your fetish, ha ha. Many people see a sexual thing in our work and I think it is good, but we don’t know what exactly the fetish is.
Some of this stuff looks pretty high fashion.
I think we have a link with fashion. Last summer we have worked with one of the big French fashion houses and our Paw Shoes were in the New York Times Magazine last year.
Can you tell me something about this 'flapping push toy'? It looks like a crazy mechanical fish, does it actually move?
It's a flapping push toy. It is a toy from childhood dreams, a big zeppelin with flapping wings. You push it and it flaps and moves along.
Does someone actually have a tattoo of your masks?
Apparently yes, but I don't know who they are. But it's not just one guy, several people have the tattoo.
Right, I can imagine. Do you have a favorite piece?
I really cannot judge myself. I have made hundreds of products, you can count them on my blog or website if you want. But I'm sure the best one hasn't been made yet. One of my favourites so far is the dragon backpack. Mine too!