Last week, 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 his reflection upon the modern leather industry, and the museum’s role within it.

Written by Philip Warner.

The Leather Industry Dinner on the 1st February 2018 was somewhat of a milestone in the growth and developing appreciation of the remarkable material that is leather. At the invitation of the Master (Anthony Barrow), over 80 industry professionals – and one rather awestruck curator! – gathered at the Leathersellers’ Company in London. Leathersellers’ Hall is the 7th incarnation of this illustrious organisation, which was established in 1444. The new hall, opened by HRH the Earl of Wessex in 2017, is a celebration of good design and craftsmanship.

The occasion was a revival of an event that had been in abeyance for several years, and it comes at an interesting time for the industry. Scrutiny on how mankind manages and uses its resources is greater than ever before. These are encouraging times for leather. The diligence and craftsmanship which underpin its creation and uses are being viewed in a new light as society considers its responsibilities as custodians of our planet. ‘Pile it high, dispose of it quick, consumerism’ is losing ground to ‘good quality’ and ‘made to last’. More than ever, the industry needs to educate and engage people with the truth about leather so consumers can make informed choices about the products and materials they buy.

On that note, I was delighted to have been asked to take a travelling exhibition of the National Leather Collection’s items to the event. In small displays dotted throughout the Hall, we presented a snapshot of the variety of uses that mankind has put leather to throughout the ages. Seat furniture, wall hangings, caskets, gloves, bookbindings, clothing and contemporary art were all on show. Over 800 years of history was accessible; from a 12th century German love token box in cow hide, via Russian reindeer leather salvaged from the wreck of an 18th century merchant vessel, through to the iconic ‘rocket bag’ designed by Bill Amberg in the 1990’s.

The two speeches given at the event; by James Lang, chairman of the UK Leather Federation, and Kate Hills from ‘Make it British’. Both speeches were underpinned with the themes of education and engagement. So, to be honest, it is a really exciting time to be resurrecting a collection of over 10,000 items that tell the world story of leather. To be given the task of presenting the heritage of this industry to the public. It is a real blessing to be part of the collective efforts to raise awareness of this most misunderstood material. As a representative of a museum, I am keen to keep my opinion neutral – to simply tell the stories of the objects and archive materials. To allow access to the information in an unbiased way, open for all.

One might think that such a dinner would be awash with self congratulation and back slapping, but it was not. The newest micro-tanneries such a Billy Tannery in Leicestershire; the craftsmen and designers such as Luke Hughes & Co, John Lobb, Edward Green and so many more; right through to large multi-nationals like COTANCE – the Confederation of National Associations of Tanners and Dressers of the European Community – all shared the same attitude. A desire to push the boundaries of excellence, to build on the lessons of the past. To see just how far leather can go towards providing a sustainable, responsibly produced resource for a burgeoning global population, for the benefit of mankind.

Next week, Philip Warner will take a look at some of the wonderful craftsmen and women that attended the Leather Industry Dinner and represent the future of the leather industry. Stay tuned!