“Because we specialise, we can concentrate on quality and craftsmanship,” says Robert Ettinger, CEO of the 1934-founded luxury leather goods manufacturer, which for the past 20 years has also been a Royal Warrant holder. “Quality is everything and we stop at nothing to maintain and improve what we deliver in our products. Customers appreciate and seek this
out, knowing our products will last a lifetime.”
Ettinger’s craftspeople train for five years and are, he believes, some of the best in the leather accessories world today. Similarly, over at Smythson, which returned to London Fashion Week in February for the first time in six years, it’s the painstaking effort involved that’s vital.
It takes about a week to create a batch of Smythson’s signature Panama notebooks. Each one is finished by hand by a Smythson craftsperson, who binds the paper interior into the leather cover. It is this, the human touch, that makes the difference, giving each notebook a much higher quality than a machine could. In a time of AI advances, this is a welcome triumph.
Trevor Pickett, founder of the Burlington Gardens-based Pickett leather goods and accessories boutiques, describes this all as a “rarefied world”. It is unique, for example, that he and his staff can see personally what sells on the shop floor and suggest product tweaks accordingly; they keep patterns of previous products and can revisit them as necessary. There is, therefore, no sense of mad rush and panic instilled in their customers to “get it before it goes” – a tactic all too evident on the high street.
To that end, if it’s still freezing cold in spring and you can’t find a scarf anywhere, be rest assured you’ll find one at Pickett.
“People come here knowing that they’re going to get something reliable and consistent,” says Pickett, for whom the only issue might be that his products are too durable. “No one wants to replace them!” he laughs.
Because where the high street will always place style over substance (it is, of course, chasing the latest trends), these heritage brands are doing quite the reverse; often their very origins are founded on the fact that they were created for practical purposes in the first place. The fashion and style part was just a happy coincidence.
Take Belstaff, for example, which launched in 1924 producing waterproof garments with a strong foot in the motorcycling world. Famous names such as TE Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia), Steve McQueen and Che Guevara would go on to become customers, adding some cool credentials to the mix. Aviation and adventure became synonymous with the brand, which also supplied the army and navy, emphasising durability as a core component.
“Belstaff clothing is built for life – you wear it in and it’s with you for the journey,” says creative director Sean Lehnhardt-Moore, who joined the brand in May 2018. “From its origins right up to the present day, Belstaff has been a pioneer in the creation of innovative, fit-for-purpose fabrics and specialist garments.” For proof of that, you only need to look at how the Trialmaster jacket from 1948 – a leather waxed cotton design in a slim silhouette – has become iconic for the label.
Lehnhardt-Moore identifies the success and importance of British heritage brands as “represent[ing] a style and substance that is honest; there’s a quality and reliability that people gravitate towards”. Authenticity and truth are themes circulating beyond the realms of fashion right now so therefore it makes sense that we want clothes and accessories we can trust.
“[Fashion] is fast, furious and relentless, which is why it is important to maintain your point of view and what you stand for,” explains Jeremy Hackett, co-founder of the quintessentially British menswear brand Hackett. “I believe the ethos of Hackett is to provide accessible luxury with a British sensibility; looking at fashion but taking from that only what is appropriate for us.”
Notably you’ll find customisation, personalisation, bespoke and made-to-measure services are all options that most of these brands offer. It’s that little added extra that makes your wallet yours and not just the same as everyone else’s. Granted it might cost a bit more, but as Robert Ettinger points out, that’s not a bad thing. “It will last a lifetime, so the old adage of ‘buy once, buy well’ is very much what we advocate,” he explains. And in the face of sustainability, that’s a sentiment that stands the test of time.
Photos courtesy of Ettinger and Pickett.