VR: Your age and occupation?
RN: I am 31 years old and my occupation is Owner/Director at Made by Nichols.
VR:Your educational background?
RN:I began my education of leather crafting whilst studying at The London College of Fashion on a three year BA Honours degree at the Cordwainers Footwear Design and making course. On this course, I was taught how to make both men’s and women’s shoes whilst also learning about the fashion industry and about building a business within it.
With fellow artisan Yohei Fukuda
VR: Have you any children or spouse (and how do they relate to your leather enthusiasm)?
RN: Although my main focus is on luxury men’s bags and accessories, I also have an interest in women’s products, my girlfriend has a love for quality leather bags so she is always a source of opinion — whether I want it or not, ha! I often ask for her opinion on details as she also has a degree within the fashion industry, so I can always rely on her for an honest point of view.
VR: …and your parents and siblings’ reactions back when you first decided to go for this job?
RN:Growing up, I was taught to work with my hands from a very young age. My father is an extremely skilled carpenter that has worked on many grand houses in the West Country, predominately Bath, which is next to my home town. As well as carpentry, he also dabbles in antique restoration, so from the age of 13 I have been learning all kinds of woodwork and finishing skills. This, I believe, is where I first gained my eye for detail and started to learn about the high expectations of clients. My parents have always been hugely supportive of my leather crafting career, both often visiting my workplaces in London and most recently with my father laying the floor boards to my new studio.
VR: How did you first become interested in artisanal goods, and when did you turn your eyes towards leather working? Why this material over others?
RN: Leather has always been a material that I adore; the look, feel and the smell is unbeatable when compared to synthetics, there is just no comparison. The natural grains of the skin and ageing process that a product undergoes throughout its life span is a beautiful transformation to watch. One of my favourite items to see age are my wallets; whether calf or alligator skin each item will differ because no two people carry their wallet in the same manner or stuff the same amount of cards into a pocket. After a year or so, when the corners have curled over a little and the leather brushing against the inside of a pocket has burnished the edges, therefore darkening the outer surroundings, I love that look.
VR:How have you gathered your knowledge of the trade — from books, in-house training, workshops or somewhere else?
RN: Since graduating from The London College of Fashion I have spent the last 10 years honing my craft and continually learning about luxury manufacturing and making. Upon graduating, the first position I took was at a start up company called Nat Boyd London. The focus at Nat Boyd was making in-house small leather goods covered with their signature wicker pattern printed onto the leather. Working at Nat Boyd was incredibly valuable for the start of my career and own brand now, because I was involved in all aspects of the business from sampling to showcasing at trade fairs. The products always had a nod to the art world because one half of the ownership was a fellow creative that worked at Andy Warhol’s New York studio at the height of Warhol’s time, before his passing. The other side of the brand and London director of the business was a professional printer who, after years of printing gift products for the likes of The Shakespear’s Globe, began the transition from gifting to luxury fashion items. It was a great place to spend the first three and a half years of my career.
From Nat Boyd I moved on to work at Dunhill London’s bespoke workshop. This is where, I believe, I learned the true level of luxury and handcrafted products. When I joined, there was a small team of master craftspeople all of whom had decades of knowledge and experience of traditional and also modern luxury leather craft. My manager had previously worked for Yves Saint Laurent and Hermès and the two senior craftspeople I was working with had been at Dunhill, previously known as Tanner Krolle, each for more than 10 years. Working with such skilled and knowledgeable artisans was incredible, the focus at the time of my arrival was the manufacturing of their traditional top frame briefcase, ‘The Worsley’. Learning how to make such a product that consists of all aspects of luxury leather crafting from hand burnishing the edge with a burnishing mitten to hand stitching the frame and handle pushed my skills to a new level. I am indebted to the team at Dunhill for the time and knowledge they shared with me.
After my time at Dunhill, I was approached by Simpson’s London who were building a new state of the art factory in London with the intention to reboot the English leather crafting industry. Simpson’s products share many similarities to the products I was making at Dunhill, such as using English bridle hides and hand stitching, so it made for a desirable opportunity. After a year working at Simpson’s I was made senior craftsperson and put in charge of one of their departments, the medium leather goods section where we made briefcases, messenger bags and travel bags. Working at Simpson’s was a fantastic opportunity because they also manufactured products for other luxury brands. This meant the work was varied and gave myself and my team the chance to try out and learn new making techniques.
VR:Please describe how your company was born and what goals you set for yourself in the beginning. How have you been received so far?
RN: Made by Nichols is the product of 10 years of industry experience. I always knew I wanted to create my own brand, having worked with such inspiring brands and craftspeople I wanted to create something that matches my style, and tilts the cap to the traditional English leather trade that has taught me my skills. For a few years, I have been buying machines from craftspeople that I’ve met throughout my career and putting them into storage until I was ready to take on a space. In late 2018, I took my first studio space in Clapham Junction which is where I am based now.
VR:Have you any particular style or detail philosophy for your wares?
RN: The aim and ethos of my brand is always to use the best quality leathers, hardware and attachments that I can source. The designs of my products are classic with new modern finishes and accommodating to the tech revolution. My own personal style is quite casual but I like to add flares of sophistication and aim to do this through my bags and accessories. Currently my favourite product is my bomber bag because it can be used as a smart day bag for work, big enough to carry all of your work items along with a gym kit or it can also be used for a weekend away whether it be a casual weekend break or business trip.
VR: Who or what inspires you?
RN: Having been part of the industry for a decade now, I’ve seen how tough the market it is, especially when making your products yourself because the overheads and running costs can be very high. I admire any of the brands out there that have stayed true to their values of providing the highest quality products made in their own workshops. Foster and Sons, John Lobb (bootmakers) plus so many more of the specialist stores in and around Jermyn Street, London. Dunhill for continuing to invest in their London workshop and giving people like myself the opportunity to train with some of the best.
I also take huge inspiration from the Japanese approach to crafting where each individual detail is meticulously considered. In recent times I have become friends with Japanese luxury shoemaker Yohei Fukuda and he has given me some great advice with where best to position my products. For design inspiration, as many of my products have traditional silhouettes, I can certainly admit that I have taken inspiration from past works but I also look towards the new requirements of tech gadgets and how best to house them whilst maintaining simplistic designs. Brands like Tumi, who are not notably famous for stylish design, certainly inspire me with their use of pockets and compartments.
The rise of instagram has definitely provided us all with a plethora of fantastically dressed men. Andreas Weinas is one of my favourite online influencers with his smart casual styles and also formal attire choices; as is Fabio Attonasio of The Bespoke Dudes and Simon Crompton of Permanent Style.
Away from the industry, I take a lot of inspiration from architecture, much of my work uses strong clean cut lines and this is often down to my surroundings in London. The Albert Bridge in Battersea where I live has provided me with many of the shapes in my pieces as have the skyscapers in Cannary Wharf where I have spent a lot of time. Because of my industry experience, I feel I have the ability not only to design products that my clients desire but also to withstand the test of time. Having been fortunate enough to work with the brands and craftspeople that I have, it has taught me the best ways to reinforce and make my products strong and durable which in some of the mass production factories often gets overlooked. I want my products to age well with my clients and to support them on their travels or as they go about their daily tasks.
VR: Why should Keikari’s readers choose you over other British leather artisans?
RN: When selecting luxury leather goods and accessories it’s always difficult to know who to choose; I’d recommend one of my products over many of the other brandsout there because I can customise any of them to your requirements. None of my designs are set in stone and if you require your own personal pocket insert, material choice or leather choice, my past experience within the industry gives me fantastic access to many world-renowned suppliers as well as unknown gems of which many other smaller brands don’t usually offer. I frequently receive messages from fellow craftspeople enquiring about my suppliers but these are sacred and have taken years to collate, so I do not hand them out.
VR: What’s your definition of style?
RN: Style is all about details and how you edit looks to your personality. In the sector that I have focused my products on, men’s style as well as my own is all about tailored fits set off with accessories, such as watches, shoes, and choice jewellery. The more time I spend around quality products, the more I want my attire to be entirely selected. It’s difficult to be stylish from head to toe everyday but, for me, a decent pair of shoes or boots, combined with my every day jewellery (two silver rings and a single bangle) along with a well-fitted pair of trousers and a woollen top works well.
VR: Finally, have you any tips for identifying quality leather and make?
RN: After spending a long time working with leather as my creative medium, my first characteristic when selecting leather is, how does it feel to the touch? Whether it’s vegetable tanned of chrome tanned, I will always expect the surface to have some kind of wax/oil feel. Dry, rigid skins are a sign of being dried too quickly using heaters or not being left in the tanning drums long enough to properly absorb the dyes. A poor quality leather will almost certainly begin to crack or break far sooner than a well finished, properly tanned hide.