When Jason Ross, a designer and founder of the accessories label Artemas Quibble, was commissioned to design a belt for a magazine shoot styled by George Cortina, he started by looking on eBay. Ross knew it was for a GQ cover shoot, but not that it was for the October 2019 issue that would feature Brad Pitt — he only finds out his belts have made it when the issues come out. Cortina’s team only told him what was on the shoot’s moodboards: something 1950s, maybe military-inspired, with a vintage-looking buckle. They wanted sun-bleached, dusty colors. They wanted green, blue, and maybe some other options, too.
Ross went onto eBay and started plugging in search terms. To begin with, he looked for the obvious — harness and military buckles — before moving onto the less obvious — clock pendulums, scientific tools, and surveyors’ instruments. He looked for anything that was bronze or brass and in the general shape of a buckle. He has spent hours upon hours learning the history of the buckle, but looks beyond it to come up with new ideas. He favors eBay finds because they’re “at the end of their life, and are considered trash or without value. What I like is finding the beauty in these discarded pieces and then making them into beautiful things,” he said. For him, relaxation comes in the form of going online and looking at museum collections, as well as the United Kingdom’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, a project that records archaeological finds by the British public. “Looking at buckles is like comfort TV for me,” Ross says.
But belts aren’t what Ross started out with, nor are they the only accessory he makes. The first tastemaker to wear his designs was former Vogue accessories director Michelle Kessler-Sanders, who saw Ross’s jewellery at his friend’s hair salon. She bought it and wore it to parties other fashion people attended. It’s funny, Ross said, that belts are now what he’s doing: “I never thought I’d get into belts because my mom was into belts,” he explained, citing press clippings from the ‘70s-era New York Times and Women’s Wear Daily that document his mother’s “bang bang belt” — a belt made of bullets.
But essentially,” Ross said, “people keep asking for belts. All the press people I work with know I make jewellery but they never ask for it.” Belts seem to provide a sense of connection that fancier items don’t, perhaps because they’re simply more functional: to be beautiful as well as useful is a surprise. “Every time I make a belt, it seems like someone loves something about it,” Ross said. “More than anything else I’ve made, there’s been constant interest and affirmation that it’s important or that it’s beautiful — ultimately, that there’s value in it.”
Ross has since consulted for Calvin Klein, Helmut Lang, Jonathan Simkhai, and St. John Knits, but his big break came when Kessler-Sanders brought him into Donna Karan as the belt consultant, after she’d taken the helm of the now-defunct brand’s accessories division in 2007. It was one of those Donna Karan belts that led Cortina to him — a member of Cortina’s team found one in a thrift store — and sparked a relationship that has lasted years. Cortina also used Artemas Quibble belts for the May 2019 GQ cover featuring Keanu Reeves as well as the April 2021 issue, which features Steven Yeun.
There’s a “shorthand,” as Ross put it, between him and Cortina’s team now. The seemingly broad parameters set for him coalesced in “the throwaway part of the eBay buy.” He found a horse-tack buckle that had a five-pointed solid star enclosed within a circular hole. It was a Conway buckle, which have the prong facing inwards from the middle of the back, as opposed to the standard movable prong attached to the edge. The leather goes behind the buckle, instead of over and under. “This shape was perfectly designed for this military-styled buckle,” Ross says. He sent the picture to Cortina’s team, who liked it and asked him to produce the belt. Ross sent the finished items over. A few months later, he saw them in the pages of GQ.
After the shoot, a member of Brad Pitt’s team put in an order for a belt in each color, which retail for $495 a piece. All of Ross’s existing stock sold out, and a year and a half later, it is still on backorder. Not bad for someone who, as Ross said, “totally fell into it by accident.”