The owner of leather goods brand Simpson London tells James Knowles why his attaché cases are a must-have for top executives.
Why did you decide to strike out on your own and launch Simpson London?
I only got involved in the leather business through marrying my wife, whose father was Jeffery Krolle and part of the Tanner Krolle family, and then it went from there. We sold [Tanner Krolle] to Chanel in 1992, which brought in its own team, and it was clear we weren’t going to hit it off, so leaving wasn’t a hard decision. The company wanted to create an independent brand and refused to do private label, which killed its business overnight. I knew my customers in the West End really well and they kept asking if we could do something. So along with two of the craftsmen from Tanner Krolle, we decided to set up on our own in 1997.
Where do you source your leather from?
We source from Europe because there are less flies that can cause damage to the hides in the Northern Hemisphere, so the quality tends to be better.
What type of man carries your cases?
Our attaché cases are almost a badge of honour among London’s chief executives. I know a lot of very senior executives who own one, which they’ve either bought from me directly or in a shop. When I see them carrying one I can recognise the case from a mile off.
Why do you think ‘Made in Britain’ is back in demand?
The shift was inevitable because of rising incomes. Three years ago you couldn’t touch the Chinese. They had the latest machinery, the same materials and would work for a dollar a day. Now they won’t and when you factor in transport costs it’s just easier to manufacture here. Our British-made product has always been popular in Japan, and this is spreading to other Asian countries.
There’s talk of a manufacturing skills shortage, something highlighted by Drapers’ Save Our Skills campaign. Is it a challenge to find skilled workers?
We’ve been lucky and managed to recruit people as a result of other leather goods manufacturers closing down, or by picking up students from [Enfield college specialising in land-based training] Capel Manor’s saddlery course, who have wanted to go into non-saddlery leather goods. The Government could do more to support manufacturing. The present administration is doing a lot better at addressing the issue than the last one.
How do you plan to grow the business?
Five years ago I spotted a gap in the market for bridle wallets [bridle leather is a premium-grade cowhide finished with specialist techniques], and today we’re getting two or three orders a week from retailers who want to offer our leather goods [such as the holdall, right] at more accessible price points. We also exhibited at the spring 12 edition of menswear trade show Pitti Uomo for the first time, which was great exposure for us. The show is a scrum, absolute madness and you meet all types of characters, from those who are smartly dressed to those who are more ‘out there’, which I suppose is all part of the fun of going.
- Robert Simpson is the owner of luxury leather goods brand Simpson London
If you had to wear one brand for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Savile Row tailor Richard James. He’s a charming character, my kind of vintage, and the suits are very stylish.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Anthony Hopkins. He has a voice, much like Richard Burton, which is evocative in so many ways.
What’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought but never worn?
In the 1970s I bought a velvet smoking jacket in Harrods. They were in fashion and I actually did wear it a few times.