Spain has a long history of excellence in the field of leatherware, and its brands continue to thrive thanks to a focus on traditional craftsmanship combined with imaginative design. From international superbrands Loewe and Manolo Blahnik to lesser-known (but no less impressive) labels Cartujano and Iriarte Iriarte, we’ve rounded up four of the most important leather specialists in Spain. They may vary in style, but what unites them is a commitment to great design and exquisite craftsmanship
When visiting Barcelona, take a break from tapas and Gaudí to discover the array of exceptional accessories on offer. The production of leather goods is one of Spain’s most important industries and comes with an impressive cultural heritage that is well worth exploring. From high-end luxury labels to family companies still using century-old machinery, Spain’s leather-goods specialists continue to win fans around the world thanks to their focus on craftsmanship as well as trends.
Spanish leather goods bring together tradition with vibrancy and artistry
When you think of Spanish luxury fashion, Loewe is one name that immediately springs to mind. Since British designer Jonathan Anderson became the brand’s creative director in late 2013, it has been at the forefront of accessories design. The reimagining of the historic label under Anderson has brought about a real surge in Loewe’s popularity, putting it firmly back on the global fashion map. ‘When I go to London, I think Burberry. When people come to Spain, they should think Loewe,’ Anderson told WWD in 2016. Despite its impressive international presence, Loewe is committed to its roots. More than 170 years after its launch in Madrid, the house remains based in the Spanish capital, where its collections are designed and handmade in its main workshop.
Thanks to a series of short films released in recent seasons by the brand, as well as a limited-edition book entitled Masters of Leather, it’s easy to appreciate the meticulous attention to detail involved in creating each Loewe piece. From hand-stitching each compartment to the 250-step process that requires four separate leather workers using over 40 tools to create the famous Amazona bag, craftsmanship is at the very core of Loewe’s values.
The Amazona was Loewe’s first bag designed to be used both in the daytime and in the evening, and combined practicality and exquisite design. Its release in 1975 coincided with an era of increased liberalism in Spain, and the label wanted to create an accessory whose soft leather, elegant design and useful size celebrated the growing independence of the country’s women.
From modern renditions of the Amazona and Flamenco bags to new models such as those from the Puzzle and Elephant collections, Anderson’s vision for Loewe shows Spanish leather design is anything but dull. As well as maintaining traditions, Loewe also strives for innovation. For spring/summer 2018 the brand has used a technique called needle punching for its latest hero accessory, the Missy bag. In this process, fibres are mechanically entangled to produce a non-woven material by repeated penetration of barbed needles through a preformed wool web, resulting in the seamless bonding of two different materials.
Spanish leather craft goes further than bags, however. One of the world’s most renowned shoe designers, Manolo Blahnik, was born in the Canary Islands to a Spanish mother and Czech father. His flamboyant designs possess a distinct boldness reminiscent of the Spanish landscape and lifestyle. A craftsman to the core of his being, Blahnik is famous for continuing to create and perfect each shoe model with his own hands. Even after more than 50 years of producing footwear, he still makes coveted pieces that inspire confidence. ‘Shoes,’ he says on the brand’s website, ‘help transform a woman.’
Family-run footwear and accessories brand Cartujano uses machinery that is more than a century old with the aim of preserving the traditions of Spanish leather craft. In pursuit of ‘quality, craftsmanship and timeless beauty’, Cartujano’s skilled cortadors (specialist
leather cutters) work with only the finest hides from European tanneries. The founding Fluxá family has been using its Goodyear welting machines, originally imported from England, to produce shoes and accessories for four generations and 139 years. Today the company stands for high-end contemporary fashion, with stores in Madrid, London and Berlin.
But the leather goods business in Spain isn’t just about those brands with a long history. Barcelona-based Iriarte Iriarte is a contemporary independent store that produces an annual collection of women’s bags that are all made by hand from natural leathers, and its story began as recently as 2009. Founder and owner Carolina Iriarte explains: ‘Craft and the process of production are more than important – they are our essence. Our bags are created one by one in the studio, so each is slightly different, and is then hand-dyed and treated with vegetable oil and finished with original hardware fittings. The edges are then painted and burnt to ensure the utmost quality and an appearance that will grow better with age.’
From Carolina Iriarte’s independent boutique workshop to Loewe’s new era under Jonathan Anderson, it’s clear that Spain’s unique combination of traditional values, vibrancy and artistry – famously exemplified in some of Barcelona’s most iconic buildings – is expressed to perfection by its leading leather-goods makers.