The zenith of leather-goods manufacture has always been saddle-stitching – the handmade process whereby a craftsman weaves two waxed threads in and out of the leather, looping them around each other and binding the seam. It creates unparalleled strength, and cannot be replicated by machine.
A good deal of saddle-stitching still goes on in the UK today, but it is a cottage industry. There is very little at scale, unlike the operations supported by designer brands in France and Italy. The only exception – the flag bearer – is Alfred Dunhill.
I’ve been particularly fond of the Dunhill operation in Walthamstow, east London, ever since I visited it a couple of years ago for my book Best of British. Although a traditional workshop, the workmen there are consistently pushing themselves with new leathers, techniques and designs.
Dunhill’s leather Duke folio (£1,490), produced at that workshop, is a fine example of saddle-stitching, and a truly special piece for many reasons. Its thick, soft leather is very different from the oiled bridle leather used to make most British handsewn pieces; it creates a relaxed, casual quality like that commonly found in Italian bags, and has a wonderful heft in the hand.
The folio’s brass lock, deliberately uncoated so it will tarnish naturally, is also very traditional. But its size and angled position are unusual, even indulgent. A smaller lock would be more practical, but a lot less attractive.
Like the best British goods, this is at heart a simple piece whose appeal is in the subtlety of the materials and craftsmanship. But it also has a little kick of continental flair.
Simon Crompton is a men’s style writer and consultant. He is the founder of the award-winning website Permanent Style (www.permanentstyle.co.uk) and author of Le Snob Guide to Tailoring (Hardie Grant Books, £8.99) and The Finest Menswear in the World (Thames & Hudson, £24.95). To read more of his columns, click here.