Part of the process of developing my jacket lines is to search out the most authentic original materials I can find to recreate the footsteps of my ancestors. The leather jacket makers of the past searched out the best materials, animals, skins, tanners, zippers, buttons, sewers and threads to make jackets that would look better, perform better, out last, and hopefully outprice, their competitors. The issues were never purely price driven. These great companies are only recognized and collected today because the jackets and products they made are still around and were made to stand the test of time. There are so few sources of products worthy of manufacturing jackets in the “old way” I have been ordering leather, and working with tanneries globally to buy some of the best veg. tanned horsehide on the planet. My horsehides come from several sources in Japan, North America and now Italy.
There is a method to this madness of ordering hides from different tanneries. Firstly it can take up to a year to produce vegetable tanned horsehide. I can’t just run down to the corner store and order it up on demand! Secondly, each tannery is kind of like a winery. They use different horses, different tannages, different oils and subtly different techniques to make their hides. Like wine, hides come out with slightly different characteristics from each tannery, different tempers, different finishes and different feels. While it is popular to focus on one brand or another these days, I can assure you that focusing on one tannery is like only drinking one brand of wine, it might be good but variety is the spice of life! I can’t and don’t just call up and order leather. I work very hard to experiment with tannages, bating and finishes to come up with the most authentic and best “feel” of leather possible. I have been working on buffalo, goat and horsehide.
Italian horsehides vs Japanese hides
I just got new horsehide in from Italy. It is beautiful, a very vintage style hide on the “drier” side of vegetable tanning with a very nice hand. The leather has a papery crust with a really nice dark rich black brown finish and a two colour analine dye finish. This leather is absolutely lovely. It is also very very authentic to early 1930s sporting leathers that were veg. tanned. Jacket samples will be coming soon!
I seem to get a lot of questions regarding the “cost” of my jackets. I have noticed a rather disturbing trend regarding the use of the term “vintage” and worse, the use of the designs from the past. I rarely focus on the negative regarding the emerging new brands that are either heritage brands, or heritage based brands but of late these brands have been appearing in somewhat of a “frenzy”. Every week there seems to be a new clothing brand, or an old clothing brand, producing a replica vintage product. It would almost appear that as long as a garment contains some tweed, oilskin or horsehide it is now “authentic”.
Last week a leather jacket company called me looking for horsehide leather. They were quite frustrated that they could not purchase horsehide leather from Horween for 3 dollars a square foot. This was a very very old original California leather jacket maker and as I am an amicable fellow I offered up my expertise on available horsehide and design in the hopes that there would be a small exchange of history in trade. I was rushed off the phone, the company in question taking my information and assurance that there is not a “cheap” supply of vintage horsehide, and has since ignored my requests for a historical inquiry.
Last week I also saw some very interesting knockoff 1960s hippy jackets that were near perfect replicas of some original jackets…the problem being that the sewing techniques and leather were not of the same quality and character of the originals. Ok, here is my point. I am sure there are cheaper ways to simulate “authenticity” and certainly anybody can put a D pocket on a jacket and call it vintage design. The real art of making a perfect jacket is in spending the time and money to go back to the best of the best of handmade materials, cutting and techniques of manufacture. These are not always easily discernible on the surface. There is no shortcut or cheap way to imitate this kind of “authenticity”. Often the slightest improvement in technique and materials can increase the labour and cost of a great jacket exponentially. But isn’t that what one should strive for in an ‘authentic” jacket? I will not knock others efforts, and I am sure that many will not see the value in my search for the best of the best. But I think it is important to acknowledge the quest and be honest in the authenticity of what your selling not just what you are branding. The best way to be sure is to ask questions, and from my perspective share the quest and the process. Every person deserves one good thing, inform yourself, ask questions, and spend your money with brands you can trust to be true to your own values.