Armor may have fallen out of favor in the 1700s, but there’s no shortage of knight-worthy styles in contemporary fashion. Just look at the medieval army Viktor & Rolf sent down the fall 2011 runway, Pamela Love’s coveted cage rings, or the white gold and diamond-embellished chain-mail evening glove Daphne Guinness designed with Shaun Leane.
But 43-year-old Chris Harveaux of Oaks Armoury isn’t too concerned with modish Dark-Age trends; rather, he’s reviving the lost art of building old-world armor.
Ten years ago, the soft-spoken Minnesota native began crafting armor in a shed in his backyard. “I always thought it would be cool to have a suit of armor,” says Harveaux, who recalls that he was amazed by the beauty of an armor exhibition he saw at the Met while in college. “But I couldn’t afford one, so I decided to try making it myself.” The father of three, who works as a substitute teacher, EMT, and full-time fireman when he’s not refining his armorsmithing skills, posted images of his early experiments online. And soon enough, requests for bespoke gear came pouring in. “I wasted a lot of metal!” jokes Harveaux when asked how he learned to make combat-ready breastplates, deadly pointed sabatons (knight-speak for shoes) and completely functional gauntlets with near-obsessive precision. The craftsman studies films of museum pieces, as well as images in Italian armor books, in order to perfect his scale-like steel cuirasses (the piece that covers the torso) and regal horse armor. Oaks Armoury, Harveaux’s one-man workshop, caters to medieval reenactors, costume designers, and collectors. Customers as far away as Japan enlist Harveaux’s expertise, requesting everything from custom Conan sword fittings to a set of horse-armor tailored for a person (an ongoing project about which Harveaux is particularly perplexed). In fact, Harveaux is in such high demand that he still hasn’t had time to complete his own suit of armor—i.e., the reason he got into the craft in the first place. But he has found a few moments to outfit his children, Andromakhe, Elijah and Isaac. “They were about four years old when I made them their first suits,” recalls Harveaux. “They think it’s pretty cool. And they still like to dress up.” His wife, on the other hand, often teases that she can’t understand why someone would shell out anywhere from $1000 to upwards of $5000 for made-to-order items. But considering Harveaux spends more that 45 hours perfecting the movement of each finger on a single gauntlet, his pieces are a steal. “I like to get my work as close to the original piece as possible. I also just want to have fun and release my artistic side,” he says, noting that masterfully crafted antique suits of armor are increasingly being considered as works of art. As for armor’s presence in fashion, Harveaux thinks it’s “awesome.” “In the last five years or so, I’ve seen lots of cross over pieces that are rooted in medieval armor. I think Lady Gaga was wearing something recently.” When asked if he’d like to create something for the pop star, Harveaux responded, “I think it would be pretty sweet.”