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Germany is top for leather


Germany’s creators of luxury leather goods are increasingly making their mark on the international stage. Stephen Doig looks at the leading names

Stephen Doig,

In the pursuit of the finest luxury leather goods, the seasoned connoisseur knows that Germany is a fruitful destination. Its rich array of leather goods proves that the country has quietly been perfecting the art of exquisite leather production for decades, with a raft of leading brands excelling in intricate, beautifully executed accessories, luggage and footwear that’s as attractive as it is innovative. Its desirable products are proving worthy rivals to the monogrammed, atelier-fresh delights of Paris, the workshops and intrecciato weaves of Italy and the expertise and craftsmanship of Spain.

Voyage, discovery and adventure
One of the most exciting forerunners in this competitive arena is MCM, which stands for Mode Creation Munich. Founded by Michael Cromer in 1976, it has become a worldwide empire of leather craftsmanship and utterly covetable pieces, sold worldwide from Athens to Seoul. The title itself is an indication of how and why the brand was founded; MCM is 1900 in Roman numerals, which is the year, to Cromer, that international travel truly took off. Inspired by this intrepid era of voyage, discovery and adventure, MCM was born to bring a sense of glamour and elegance back into the world of travel – the 1970s being the decade when international holidaymaking became more democratic, more homogenised and less exotic.

Inspired by the idea that style should reach from the wardrobe to the boarding gate, MCM began creating timelessly classic bags and cases embossed with the brand’s distinctive crest, which bears a laurel garland in homage to Germany’s King Ludwig I and a diamond as a nod to the Bavarian royal family. The designs have retained this pattern ever since and, while the pieces are now made further afield, the bags retain a personal touch; the metallic tag on each comes with a number that is unique.

Blazing into the 21st century
This respect for heritage and tradition hasn’t, as the evolution of the brand proves, been to the detriment of style or fashion nous. In 2005, MCM enlisted the respected German fashion designer Michael Michalsky to be its creative director. The designer, who runs his own label, along with a design consultancy business, had previously worked at Yohji Yamamoto, Stella McCartney and as creative director of Adidas, and came to the label with a keen eye and sporty aesthetic. Along with adding eye-popping colours to the classic luggage and handbags, Michalsky toyed with the label’s logo, adding studding, and created a cult padded leather trainer in searing tones of cranberry and lime, all bearing the MCM crest. The result? An effortlessly cool interpretation that brings MCM blazing into the 21st-century leather-goods arena.

From strength to strength
The tale at Munich-based Etienne Aigner is similarly steeped in history and nostalgia, given that the brand found life in 1940s Paris. It was during this time that a young Hungarian bookbinder called Etienne Aigner moved into accessories and began designing bags and belts for various Paris couture houses, including Christian Dior. Inspired by the gentrified sport of horse-riding (a pursuit favoured by many of the couture clients), in 1950 Aigner introduced his own range of handbags, on which a simple ‘A’ was distorted to form the shape of a horseshoe. The line was an immediate hit, and Aigner has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Aigner today has branched out beyond bags into shoes, silk scarves, eyewear, watches and even metal keyrings. But it is leather that remains at its heart. From Frankfurt to Florida, the brand now produces handbags that chime succinctly with the times; extraneous details are kept to a minimum, the highest quality skins are used and crafted in Italian workshops (powder blue snakeskin, anyone?), and even German chancellor Angela Merkel has turned to the label for classic pieces.

Arts and crafts at the heart
A sense of history is similarly intrinsic to Bodenschatz, a German-based brand which has built a reputation for its timeless leather bags and focus on bold evening clutches. Having founded a garment company in 1927, Ottmar Bodenschatz went on to debut a range of bags at the Leipzig Trade Fair in 1940. Bodenschatz is the jewel in the crown of Boschagroup, the over-arching ‘umbrella’ company. Devotion to the art and craft of leather is at its heart, with the brand adhering to the belief that the beauty of the leather should be enough to make a piece look pin-sharp, whether it’s in the lattice weave of a chocolate shopper or the butter-soft snakeskin of a messenger bag. And the best thing about the leather? From international travel to the demands of every day, it looks better as it ages.

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