The word ‘iconic’ is so over-used as to be virtually meaningless. Apply it to the jackets Lewis Leathers have been making since 1892, however, and for once you would be spot on. They have a devoted following and one of their biggest fans loved them so much, he bought the company.
3-5 Whitfield Street,
Derek Harris has owned Lewis Leathers since 2003 but his professional involvement with the brand dates back to the early 90s when he was living in Japan. There was a lot of interest in British musical sub-culture at the time and some Japanese friends asked if he could get hold of the clothes, especially the leather jackets.
Derek immediately thought of Lewis Leathers and, the next time he was in London, contacted them, only to discover that they no longer made the vintage styles the Japanese wanted. Undeterred, Derek set about trawling markets like Portobello Road for original 60s and 70s examples and persuaded the company to make a range of six vintage jackets, based on these, for the Japanese market.
Gradually, Derek became more and more involved with the brand. In fact, he ended up knowing more about it than the owner and, when he decided to sell in 2003, Derek was the obvious candidate to take the business on.
The Far East connection has remained important. There’s a Lewis Leathers shop in Tokyo as well as outlets in Shanghai and Taiwan. The appeal is universal, however, with a concession in Paris and an international clientele in the London shop.
Most, around 80%, are still bikers and the rest mainly rock fans who love that ‘iconic’ look. Many of the British customers are in their 40s, keen to get back on their bikes after their kids have flown the nest. European customers tend to be younger.
Demand at the moment exceeds supply, largely because of the firm’s commitment to quality. The leather, all from British suppliers, has to be of the highest grade and uniform thickness and the jackets are still made in Britain, since 1993 in Whitechapel.
Derek’s ‘back to the future’ approach has proved a great success and heritage and continuity are hugely important. (He still has the original Lewis Leathers telephone number.) So, when he decided to reopen the shop, he first looked for premises near the Great Portland Street address they had occupied for over a century.
When that wasn’t possible, he opened in Fitzrovia in 2009 and he’s very glad he did. Lewis Leathers is very much a destination store and Derek knows that his customers would find him wherever he was but he loves Fitzrovia.
‘Soho without the bustle’ is how he describes it. It’s a lot calmer and has a great selection of shops and restaurants. In fact, he always encourages his customers to hang around rather than rush off after visiting him. And he does everything he can to persuade other businesses to follow him into the area.