Racatune uses the ancient Suminagashi technique on leather. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
A LOST ART THRIVES    More than 35 years ago, Marcelena Recatune apprenticed under one of Dallas’ few remaining bookbinders, learning the nearly lost art of hand tooling leather. The ancient craft appealed to Recatune’s love of cultural history (she studied anthropology at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Dallas) and desire to unearth her own Basque heritage — where tooling leather has been rooted for centuries. 

Vintage and antique leather tooling instruments. Photos by Imani Chet Lytle.
In 1983, she founded Larru Leather Company, which has since become an invaluable resource for national interior designers and private clients. Working in fine calfskin from France, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, along with exotics such as shagreen and parchment, Recatune and her assistant, Alejandro Mejia, create custom hand-tooled leather furniture, wall tiles, desk blotters, bound books, and accessories.

A custom-bound book by Larru Leathers. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
Custom-tooled, gilt leather. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
It’s not just their techniques that are time-honored. Much of the artistry is accomplished with Recatune’s sizeable collection of vintage and antique leather-working tools, including some dating to the 1700s, which she brought from Paris. Some Greek key, medallion, and custom motifs are enhanced with 23K gold, and the company also restores and custom-colors leather.

Antique leather tooling wheels. Photos by Imani Chet Lytle.
Recatune is an expert in Suminagashi, the 12th-century marbleizing technique perfected in Japan and later used in Europe for paper and fabric book covers. She learned the skill from her bookbinder mentor, and she has applied it to handbags, and small leather accessories for the home.
“It’s an ancient process that few people still do,” Recatune says. “Almost no one does [Suminagashi] on leather.”
A leather blotter for the Debate Chambers at Old Parkland. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
Samples of gilt tooling at Larru Leathers. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
The rarefied artistry of hand tooling naturally appeals to an exalted audience. Larru Leather’s clients are just that: Ross and Margot Perot, President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, Ted Turner, Jerry Jones, Woody Allen, and Oliver Stone, as well as prominent designers David Easton, Jan Showers, Emily Summers, Stephen Sills, David Cadwallader, and Joseph Minton. Most recently, Larru Leather created custom desk insets and accessories with a gilt owl crest and other designs for the spectacular Debate Chamber in historic Old Parkland.

Marceluna Racatune. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
Alejandro Mejia, at work. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
Meja's handiwork: a hand-tooled leather table top. Photo by Imani Chet Lytle.
They may be dying arts, but Recatune expects hand tooling and marbleizing to thrive at her Dallas Design District studio for a long time to come. “Alejandro started as my apprentice in 1997 when he was 19,” she says. “When the time comes, he’ll have someone apprentice under him.”