Lewis Leathers: cult destination for biker boys – and girls
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
For motorcycling aficionados and rock ’n’ roll fans alike, Lewis Leathers is a British heritage brand with few peers. The purveyor of biker gear – which began in 1892 as a gentlemen’s outfitters on Great Portland Street – has a rich history of fusing function with style. A specialisation in wares for aviation and motoring took a turn towards two wheels in the 1950s, and Lewis Leathers was soon the choice for many a mod, rocker and punk, its jackets worn by The Rolling Stones and the Ramones.
“Today about 60 per cent of our customers are motorcyclists,” says owner Derek Harris, whose current Fitzrovia location, with its imposing black façade, is a place of pilgrimage for serious speedway bikers and style seekers. Pharrell Williams is a regular, as is Comme des Garçons designer Rei Kawakubo, with whom Harris has collaborated since 2002. Indeed, Japanese interest in Lewis Leathers has been high since Harris began working with the brand in 1991. “I started buying vintage jackets to research patterns,” he explains. He went on to reissue classic designs such as the Bronx (£845), first produced in 1956, and the Lightning No 402 (£840), both variations on the traditional biker jacket with its asymmetric zip. “I’ve got over 400 pieces from the 1920s to the 1980s,” he says, many of which are showcased – but not for sale – in the London boutique. Harris’s favourite is a mid-1960s Bronx “covered in patches from motorcycle brands like BSA and Triumph, and the Isle of Man TT races – it’s a real snapshot of the era.”
But as much as this is a museum of British biking history – there is even a book about it: Lewis Leathers: Wings, Wheels and Rock ’n’ Roll (£60) – it is a retail destination. “People from all over the world come to the store to experience the made-to-measure aspect of our business – both men and women,” says Harris, adding that any jacket can be constructed with a custom fit. The Bronx No 384 (from £845) may be made in a range of colours and choice of leathers, the latter impacting on the crucial “breaking in” period. “Sheep’s leather, for instance, softens up faster than cow’s leather,” explains Harris, who is particularly enamoured of the coloured varieties – “they rose to popularity around the same time as colour televisions, so riders could stand out in competitions on screen.” The Super Sportsman No 68 (£845) carries strong yellow, orange, blue and turquoise colours with particular ease across a single-breasted cut and rounded neck.
Every design tells a story. “When I went to the Great Portland Street shop in the ’90s,” says Harris, “policemen would come in for boots, leather trousers and Roadmaster jackets. It was their uniform.” Today, that belted three-quarter-length jacket (£885) with four large pockets is a fashion statement, complemented by jeans (£230) from Japan, Motorway Boots No 191 (£440), Aviakit silk scarves (£43) and Racing Gloves No 806 (£150). With the Sex Pistols on the stereo, the open road is calling.
Mottram House, 3-5 Whitfield Street, London W1 (020-7636 4314; lewisleathers.com).