A Life Well Travelled

Robert Ettinger

Issue 1 · Winter 2014/15
By Oliver Bennett · Images Benjamin McMahon

The head of the luxury leather brand tells Oliver Bennett about adapting to the modern traveller

Issue 1 · Winter 2014/15
By Oliver Bennett · Images Benjamin McMahon

The head of the luxury leather brand tells Oliver Bennett about adapting to the modern traveller

In the annals of style, there’s a historical distinction between the fop and the dandy, characterised by the difference between showy vulgarity and elegant detail. If so, then luxury leather goods producer Ettinger is definitely on the dandy’s side of the street. Classic and understated, Ettinger’s wallets, bags and accessories get noticed but don’t shout. They’re quietly desirable, and as pleasingly tactile as they are handsome. You want to handle an Ettinger wallet as well as look at it, and you'll keep it all your life.

Managing director Robert Ettinger says this ethos of restraint is part of the fabric of his company, 80 years old this year. “In the UK we simply don’t do bling so much and that goes for Ettinger too,” he says, sitting in his immaculate showroom in Putney, south- west London. “We won’t stamp gold on the outside. Our branding is discreet. It’s a bit of a British thing.”

“My father said, ‘Either you ski or come into the business.’ I chose the latter.”

Scott Dunn guests are provided with bespoke Ettinger travel items, and Ettinger also holds a Royal Warrant as well as the enviable licence to make leather goods, accessories and gifts for Wimbledon. The cognoscenti recognise the Ettinger signature: a soft, light interior contrasting with a harder, dark exterior. “We’ve always made our goods like this,” says Ettinger. “It’s an echo of the saddle, which was light on the inside, darker out.”

One of the joys of Ettinger is its evocation of the golden age of travel, and as it turns out, Ettinger is himself a keen traveller and skier. “My mother was Austrian and skied all her life, so from the age of three I was taken skiing in lovely places like Unterwasser,” he says. He became so good that he worked as a ski instructor until his mid-20s. “Then my father said, ‘Either you ski or come into the business.’ I chose the latter.”

Thus Ettinger came into a business founded by his father Gerard in 1934, which captured the attention of interwar London with its luxury leather goods. The company thrived, making wallets, cases and address books, all with real heirloom appeal. Around 15 years ago, Ettinger had to move from London and set up a plant in the UK’s historic leather area in the Midlands. The Walsall factory has given Ettinger a new lease of life, and the expanding firm now employs about 35 people as well as 40 expert home-workers.

“Much luxury leather work still can’t be done by machines,” says Ettinger. “The stitching needs to be done by hand. Many of these workers have tooled leather for generations. It’s in their blood.” As a keen traveller – recent trips have included northern Sri Lanka and (a particular favourite) Salalah in Oman – Ettinger looks at human needs and initiates products as a result of these observations. “For example, so many airlines are losing luggage now that more people are now taking on-board luggage,” he says. “So the need for hand luggage and weekender bags has grown, and we’re meeting that demand. We’re always inspired by travelling and we’ve just designed a new travel wallet, as I noticed that others wouldn’t fit into hotel safes.” Ettinger’s new wallet, therefore, has space for passport, iPhone, iPad and currency, and simply zips up and goes in the typical hotel safe. It’s often the things that make a globetrotting life more special – travel photo-frames, jewellery boxes, cuff links and hipflasks – that thrive, as do specialities such as the company’s coin purses. “In the Far East they think that handling coins is dirty, so there’s a good market,” says Ettinger.

One of Ettinger’s favourite products is the classic hard attaché case. “It’s a real talking point,” he says. “I was on a plane coming back from Taiwan and people struck up conversation simply to ask me about it.” Even this classic piece has moved with the times: “We now do one with a pocket for an iPad.”

 

 

RobertEttinger-Coloumn

 

 

Undoubtedly these are luxury products, but at the same time, Ettinger emphasises that they are good value. “I always say that an Ettinger purse or wallet is affordable. After all, a good pair of trainers cost as much.” And it seems as if the world agrees with him, as demand is growing: partly because of Ettinger’s expertise and also because of the eternal appeal of leather. “It’s good to touch and to look at,” says Ettinger. “Man has never invented anything to equal it.” So the future is to sell luxury leather overseas – and also to bring it home. “The UK is one of our smaller markets, so we’re going to open a dedicated store in London sometime in the near future,” says Ettinger. Just don’t expect to see the name in big gold letters over the door. Ettinger doesn’t do things that way.


Ettinger has designed a bespoke range of travel wallets, passport covers and luggage tags exclusively for Scott Dunn guests.

Robert Ettinger’s travel list


Favourite destination

Oman. I love the inherent beauty and solitude of its desert
Favourite hotel
The Ulagalla in Sri Lanka, it’s wonderful
Most memorable meal abroad
Friday brunch at the Traiteur, the Park Hyatt Dubai
The place you love to return to
Greece, for its unspoilt coastline and great cycle touring
Top of your must-do list
The Amanwella and Amangalla hotels in southern Sri Lanka,
together with the nearby Yala and Bundala National Parks

 
 
 
Must-have piece of luggage

The Ettinger Cotswold bag, because it can make
the most casual of outfits seem stylish
Best packing tip
Take as little as possible
Your go-everywhere item
I love my rather large Swiss Army Knife
Favourite travel writer
Stanley Stewart
Favourite ski run
Under the main chair in Taos, New Mexico

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