Check The Bell Bullitt helmet by Larson Upholstery up close.
Get out of your comfort zone. What may seem like a creativity exercise can end up changing a life forever.
Matthew Larson had a comfortable job at a Seattle auto shop customizing cars. “It was very structured, you know? My boss was my zen master. Everything was down to the minute, we wrote down what we worked on, nuts and bolts were all lined up. And I enjoyed that,” he says.
In addition to working with cars, biker culture has always been part of the craftsman's life, so making leather seats for himself or friends was already something that happened. One day, one of these friends said "Hey, you can do this!" and Larson felt free.
Around 2014, he brought Larson Upholstery to life, another level of customization for leather bike goods. From there came handmade and durable seats worthy of passing on to the next generation.
“I get a lot of joy in that, and I think that each bike speaks. And if it's very individual to that person, the bike can still move on and be sold as its own piece. You know, it's not beholden to the person, it's a creation.” Matthew explains to us.
If you think this trajectory has been bold enough so far, we let Matthew himself tell his starting point all the way to the one-of-a-kind Bell Bullitt helmet in this exclusive conversation. Don’t blink.
You started making leather seats for your friends as a personal challenge to exercise your creativity. When did you realize that this challenge had become a business?
I took my first customer through a motorcycle shop. And they said, "Hey, we have a client and we want to recommend them to you." It was kind of like, "Woah! You guys think that I can do this." It's not me who's doing this, it's you putting forth my name as though I'm somebody who's, I guess, talented enough. So, I definitely remember that moment, being referred to a customer. And then it just progressed.
My boss at the time was very understanding, and we had a lot of conversations about what I was doing for myself and what I was doing for him. And then we had a lot of conversations about my future, and I felt like the upholstery industry is so simple, all you need is an air compressor and a toolbox. And I just didn't feel like I needed a boss. So the whole experience was very freeing. It's like a child who gets their driver's license and realizes that not only do they get their own car, but they can drive wherever they want.
What's the biggest challenge in creating and building the Bell Bullitt helmet? Where did the idea to use leather in a helmet come from?
Well, my first client was through Triumph of Seattle. And there were two people there, Garret and Kim, who are incredibly instrumental in everything that I did because they had the confidence and they had the clientele. They said, "Hey, Matthew can do this." So I leaned on them. Garret, who was the manager at Triumph, had an event, a riders' show of local bike builders, and he was really excited. He said, "I want you to wrap this helmet in leather." It wasn't the Bell Bullitt, it was a much more difficult sport helmet.
I feel like upholstery for me was something that I walked into dead cold. I worked at a fish market before I started upholstery. I worked at that auto shop doing upholstery for only five years before I started Larson. So I had climbed my own ladder, and I created my own limits. When he said to wrap the leather in the helmet, I wasn't thinking about things that I learned in technical school, that you couldn't do. I thought, "That sounds awesome!"
I don't know how to do that, but there's a way to do it. Because I had no preconceived notions of how upholstery works, I just had the idea that something would be awesome. So it was Garret's idea, Triumph of Seattle, and I took it as a challenge. And I'm very grateful for all of those people there for believing in me, 'cause it's a big win.
It's quite inspiring the way you talk about leather, not mentioning just the aesthetics but also the experience, the quality, the heritage. How do you see the connection between leather and bespoke customization?
I was thinking about this the other day. When somebody says they got a new handbag, and somebody asks "Is it leather?" They wanna know is it gonna last? Is it awesome? Does it look cool in it? No. So when I go and say "it's 100% leather," they're like "Woah!".
Leather is still something that has been used for such a long time, and it's held up. The material has always spoken to people as something that's been tried and that's true.
So with design, I think it's seamless because what else would you use but the best thing that you have? But as far as the motorcycle culture, leather's always been there. And it's definitely hard to beat.
I think the material is just an easy win, it's an easy attention grabber, and it speaks to people. Everybody has something passed down on their family or something made of leather that they want to.
After a 2-year hiatus involved in his most brilliant project — be a dad — Matthew started 2022 ready to get back to work at Larson Seats. Spoiler alert: A Triumph Scrambler 1200 and a Nexx XG100 leather helmet are coming.
To prove what he returned for, we were blessed with a glimpse of the freshest Nexx XG100 leather helmet, which took quality, authenticity, durability, and design to the next level.
After all, when it's personal, it's unique.
This is how other creatives have been telling their own stories.