Working with koža (leather) is an old craft in Slavonia and Baranja, and leather richly adorned with small mirrors and intricate detailing is part of the folk tradition. Stjepan Posavčević has been working with koža since he was 16 or 17 years old. Beginning in 1952, he studied and worked in the trade in Vinkovci, Đakova, and Osijek. After military service, he returned to Vinkovci to begin his own business, “Kožuh.”
Stjepan is proud to use only genuine leather with no plastic. He showed me how he individually punches the shapes from a die with a large wooden mallet. According to grandson Luka, his grandmother Ana also started working with the leather when she married Stjepan. Ana showed me how little round circles and flowers are carefully heated on a small burner to curl into button shapes. Then each tiny piece is hand-sewn into place. She also explained how she hand-weaves each leather cord. The tiny mirrors, which can be seen in traditional decorations throughout Croatia, are actual glass which Stjepan hand-cuts.
This lengthy process of preparing the skins, punching and cutting each shape, heating the tiny buttons, hand-cutting every piece of glass mirror, and hand-sewing and embroidering the complex designs, produces an exquisite and intricate work of art.
Stjepan sometimes incorporates decorative dukats into his designs. A dukat (Eng: ducat) is a silver or gold coin that was used for trade in Europe from the 12th to 20th centuries. Gold dukats were worn on women’s necklaces and headwear in Slavonian traditional dress to denote status, and today decorative dukats still adorn ceremonial costumes.
After my delightful visit with Stjepan, Ana and family, I was in a museum in Slavonia and saw an old book protected in a glass showcase, which had a leather cover embellished with the same type of work that I had seen in Stjepan’s workshop. The art of production of Slavonian leather vests like those that Stjepan makes are included on the List of Protected Intangible Cultural Heritage, as established by the Croatian Ministry of Culture. We are honored to share Stjepan and Ana’s story with you, and to offer you the opportunity to own a bit of Slavonian heritage from true master craftspeople.