I’ve spent the past week in Northampton, where among other things I visited several factories. Heres some curiosities that I snapped up during these visits. Among other things about buying hides from the right season, the emergence of the modern version of the Scotch grain leather, and why John Lobb Paris had to redo all their patterns.

 

The birth of the modern version of Scotch grain

Modern Scotch grain leather.

Embossed leather has been around a long time, the Scotch grain pattern has as well. But in the middle of the last century, it was standard to use corrected grain leather when you made embossed grain leather. When Jonathan Jones in the early 80’s recently had taken over the main responsibility of Crockett & Jones he wanted embossed leather that was not corrected, but the same type of burnishable full grain leather that went into making the regular smooth calf leather. He then had the French tannery Du Puy develop a Scotch grain leather of this type, which immediately became very popular and today is the type that is standard when dealing with embossed grain leather.

 

 

John Lobb Paris had to redo all the patterns

The machine that created a lot of problems.

About four years ago John Lobb Paris replaced a faithful old servant in their RTW factory in Northampton, the toe lasting machine which is pulling the front part of the upper over the last and attaches it. They made a good investment in a state of the art machinery from the Italian company Reces at a cost of a bit over €120 000, which also like their old more manual machine easily could set how the pressure is distributed. When they began to try the new machine they soon realized a big problem. Since the machine lasted in a different way, the old patterns didn’t work. Eventually they realized the inevitable, they would need to redo all of the company’s patterns. Over 70 different models had the patterns corrected, all sizes and different widths. They worked on this for a year, began with the most important models and then went on. First two years after the purchase the machine could begin to be used and pay back itself by producing shoes.

 

 

Various leather suppliers for John Lobb

A so-called Museum Calf skin at John Lobb, from the Italian tannery Bonaudo, where different marks and poorer parts of the skin is marked up so the clicker can avoid those as pieces are cut out.

John Lobb Paris’ main strength is usually attributed to their high level of the upper leather. Since Hermés, who owns the company, since a long time have owned among others the well known tannery Annonay and now also Du Puy, there has always been a talk about the tanneries giving the best material to the Hermés own companies, including Lobb. When I visited the factory and talked with the man responsible for their leathers he revealed that this is not the case at all. John Lobb Paris buys leather just like any other company, also from Hermés’ tanneries Annonay and Du Puy, and most of the material usually comes from other tanneries. Just like most of the brands out there they are chasing the best material for the moment and shift tanneries constantly to get hold of the best materials. It was clearly visible in the leather storage room, there were some from Annonay and Du Puy, but at this time most came from different Italian tanneries. For example, the proportion of Annonay hides in the leather storage room of Crockett & Jones was significantly higher than at Lobb. So it’s more about John Lobb Paris having a well functioning process for buying materials than them being favored by their own tanneries.

 

 

Hides from the right season

Hides inspected at Gaziano & Girling.

More on leather. I have many times written about all the parameters that are important for getting good leather from animals, where one is that they do well from spending time outdoors since for example it strengthens the skin and the less stressful environment out there is better for the animals and thus the skin than to just stand in small boxes. But the problem, when seen from a shoe manufacturers perspective, is that there will be much more marks on the animals that are outside from among other things branches, fences and not least insects. Most of the hides which are used in leather quality shoes comes from animals in France, Italy, Germany and Poland, and these animals can spend time outside all year round. Hides from calves that lived most of their life during the winter months and are slaughtered in the spring is called winter hides, and since the insect population is significantly lower in the winter so it’s often less marks on them. At Gaziano & Girling they now aim to buy the whole year’s leather supply with winter hides, as these are a better than the summer skins.