Lifestyle: Workshop

My life in the hot seat

Via Meccanica founder Corinna Mantlo's stitch in time

From minimum wage seamstress to queen of the motorcycle seat scene, Corinna Mantlo reveals how she’s turning a passion into a profession.Via1

Q. What’s your biking background?

A. I started riding at 21 and never looked back. I always loved early 20th century clothing, film, music and literature, so from the beginning, my interest in cars and bikes echoed that. Classic motorcycle films such as The Wild One, Vanishing Point and Easy Rider shaped me – the rebel, the outlaw, the anti-hero looking for themselves on the open road and rarely finding it. It’s about the aloneness of a rider and their bike and the search for true freedom. So began a love affair with vintage Triumphs.

Q. And your life as a creative?

A. While I was a fine arts major at Laguardia High School (the ‘Fame’ school), I worked as a minimum-wage seamstress in a couture house where I learned to sew and pattern, and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute. After graduating, I moved to the UK at 17 to pursue an education in fashion, but finances stopped me completing the degree, so I returned home to work as a costume designer for film, specialising in historical and military costume.


Q. What kind of restoration work do you do and why does it appeal?

A. I began making motorcycle seats because of my involvement in vintage motorcycle groups. People were always asking where to get a seat restored or recreated and there didn't seem to be many people doing it, so I decided to have a crack at it. I quickly realised it was gratifying to me because of the research required to exactly replicate every seat that finds its way to my work bench, spanning many decades, makes and models. I do many seats for custom builds and concept/art bikes that can be seen at shows around the world. The ability to create or restore a seat for a vintage motorcycle still makes me the happiest.

Q. Where do you find your inspiration?

A. The past. Whether it’s a custom seat build or restoration project, I always look to the history of art, fashion and motorcycling to find the right design. The details that went into an early 70s Laverda and a late 60s Triumph are part of the history of those particular brands and our collective conscious or subconscious attraction to them. Whether I use those details or not in the final product, I think understanding the history of the subject leads to a better product in the end.

Q. What are the most popular styles requested – bobber, brat style, cafe racer?

A. All of the above. Brat or cafe racer thin seats are definitely a huge trend at the moment – sleek, sexy profiles to match a mean-looking custom. Also 70s chopper-style King & Queen seats are back in fad, the more wild the better. Complete customs for show bikes, which are always wonderful to collaborate on and, of course, the basic or not so basic restorations for the vintage bikes being lovingly maintained and kept on the road.

Q. What came first: custom upholstery or Cine Meccanica? How did things evolve?

A. Though I’d been riding motorcycles for almost 10 years and running movie nights in the east village of Manhattan, it wasn't until 2009 that I found my own collection of rare films was becoming increasingly motorcycle centric, and Cine Meccanica was born. The films at the time had no real following and captured a time and a place in subculture history that appealed to me, and in writing the reviews I found that, from the good to the bad, every one had worthwhile characteristics. Cine Meccanica quickly became a weekly gathering spot for gear heads. Friendships were formed, bikes bought and sold, riding partners and clubs founded, and for me it created a sense of community I'd been seeking for a long time. At the same time I was moving away from documentary film-making and as my social life became more motorcycle-centric, the pieces fell into place and Via Meccanica, as a custom upholstery company, was begun.


Q. What’s it like to turn a passion into a career?

A. Pretty great! Being raised by bohemian artists and activists, I was always encouraged to live the life I believed in. I've always supported myself and worked hard, but life is short and living it to the fullest, creating art and surrounding yourself with creative thinkers and risk takers is the only way I know how to be. I work around the clock though and most often just get by financially. I wake up every day thankful and humbled for my job and life, which truly have become one and the same. The people I call friends, travel I've done and projects I've created all come from a community founded on this strange and wonderful love of motorcycles, which has been so good to me and keeps me working hard to continue to give back to it as much as it's given me.

Q. Any more ideas to branch out?

A. I've curated Juke Box Meccanica for some years now, sort of 'the sounds' of Cine Meccanica. It’s a collection of vehicular-themed songs and soundtracks to the films. I’ve always wanted to create a line of vintage-inspired motorcycle gear, not exclusive to, but most definitely including women’s gear, a market that has been completely under valued. I think the time for that is now upon the industry and, hopefully, I can be a part of that.

Some of us grow up, but I think we can never outrun our demons, no matter how fast our Triumphs take us.

Corinna Mantlo