At the beginning of the month, the curator of the National Leather Collection – Philip Warner – took a selection of our leather treasures to the Leather Industry Dinner at Leathersellers’ Hall, London. This blog is the second part of his reflections upon modern leather designers, and the generosity of the industry. You can catch up with part one here.

Written by Philip Warner.

I was delighted to put on an exhibition of National Leather Collection objects at an industry dinner earlier this month. The black-tie gala event was a chance for the industry to gather and converse. From tanneries small and large through designers, educators and manufacturers to the leading industry manufacturers of footwear and clothing leathers.

We have never ‘NOT’ used leather in our endeavours. Since creation humans have been clothing, carrying our treasures, protecting ourselves and turning the very wheels of industry; thanks to the versatile properties of this remarkable material.

Even the bible mentions it: And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them, (Genesis 3 : 21 ESV).

The National Leather Collection has been safeguarding the world story of leather for over 70 years. Not just a museum, the collection was founded to preserve and celebrate the masters of our craft. We are a limitless source of inspiration for craftspeople across the globe. We commission and encourage works to showcase the best talents across our industry.

Some of the leather-crafters on show that evening were …

© Bill Amberg Studio 2018

Rocket Bag, Bill Amberg

© National Leather Collection 2018

Torso, Whitaker & Malem

Rocket Bag, Bill Amberg, 1990.

If there’s one bag that can be said to have brought the Bill Amberg name to public attention and launched his global career as a leather craftsman, it’s the Rocket. When it was first released in 1990, no one had seen anything like it. It was clear almost immediately that Bill Amberg had created something unusual and iconic. The Rocket Bag’s unique design somehow seemed both strikingly modern and timelessly classic at the same time – an object that had hopped through time from the past to the future and somehow landed in the present. With its use of the traditional techniques of English saddlery – cut and polished edges and manual saddle-stitching – it was recognisably a bag in the briefcase tradition but its modern design – fluid, curving lines and polished aluminium handle – seemed to have been transplanted from another world. © Bill Amberg Studio 2018

Torso, Patrick Whitaker & Kier Malem, 2000.

Whitaker & Malem are designers of incredible sculptural clothing, and are highly regarded in the film industry. Together, they have created costumes for ‘Batman’, ‘Captain America’ and, most recently, ‘Wonder Woman’.

Tree of Life, Jorge Centofanti

Screen, Alex Berens

Tree of Life, Jorge Centofanti, 1992.

The ‘Tree of Life’ is a moulded and gilded leather panel, representing the four rivers of paradise meeting in a fountain from which the tree of life grows.

Jorge Centofanti is internationally recognised as the leading exponent of the ancient leather art form known as Guadamecí, traced to the city of Cordoba, Spain, in the 9th century. Cuir de Cordoue, or cordwain or cordovan (meaning: “from Córdoba”), sometimes called gold leather (from Dutch “goudleer”), refers to painted and gilded (and often embossed) leather hangings, manufactured in panels and assembled for covering walls as an alternative to tapestry.
He has mastered techniques of moulding, embossing, bas-relief, high relief, engraving, pyrogravure, dyeing, painting, gilding, tooling, stamping, incising, mosaic; and he has advanced them in order to create modern leather murals and wall hangings.
© Jorge Centofanti 2018

Screen, Alex Berens, c.1930.

Alex Berens and Louisa Churchill were artisans in leather, wood & stone. They were part of the arts and crafts movement on the Isle of Purbeck with their firm, Studland Art Industries. Some of their pieces are now displayed in the V&A Museum. John Waterer, co-founder of the Museum of Leathercraft (now the National Leather Collection), declared the screen to be priceless. Alex Berens was a descendant of nobility, Eton educated and a friend of Baden-Powell, Augustus John, and T.E.Lawrence. The screen, and other products, reflected the oriental and Islamic design techniques he had learned in Morocco.

Some truly inspirational emerging talents were on display too; Nadine Annette, Mary Wing To and Georgina Brett-Chinnery. Designers and craftspeople whose creations will, I am sure, form museum exhibitions of the future. The kind of items we as a collection should be striving to acquire.

The dinner was also an opportunity to raise some funds and much needed awareness for The Leather & Hide Trades’ Benevolent Institution. Founded in 1860, The LHTBI supports the relief of those who are, or have been, engaged in the leather industry who are aged or incapacitated from earning a livelihood, and the bereaved spouse, adult dependents and orphans of any such person. The leather industry has a strong sense of family, and its long term care for its workers far outstrips the modern welfare state. Coincidentally the National Leather Collection now cares for the LHTBI company records, and literature.

A pair of leather Crockett & Jones Alex Black shoes were the prize in a charity raffle, signed by Daniel Craig. The provenance of the shoes is warranted; they were in Daniel Craig’s wardrobe ready to be used during filming of the 2015 James Bond film ‘Spectre’.

The shoes were kindly donated by William Wilson, Managing Director of Leathercom Ltd. The fundraising had been organised by Ian Walker of Clayton Leather Group.

© National Leather Collection 2018

Alex Black, Crockett & Jones, 2015

© National Leather Collection 2018

Alex Black, Crockett & Jones, 2015

And the winner was … well, quite fittingly it was Mr Iain ‘Flemming’ McFadyen; director of Scottish Leather Group Ltd.

Though, to tell you the truth, the real winner was you, dear reader. Well, all those readers who wish to visit the National Leather Collection here in Northampton. In a huge act of kindness, Iain McFayden subsequently donated the shoes to our museum, where they now sit in pride of place in our new display area. These wonderful shoes have now come home to the heart of the men’s footwear industry. To engage and inspire generations to come.

Again, a huge thank you to The Leathersellers’ Company for hosting such an important event. We are truly delighted to be growing the collection, to be acquiring inspirational items of the present that will become the mainstay of our museum in the future.