On Wednesday afternoon I spoke with the restauranteur Jeremy King and Bill Prince of GQ in a scarily live discussion for 5 Hertford Street, on community and the importance of bricks and mortar in both our industries; hospitality and retail. Coincidentally, for the last three weeks I have also been involved with developing a Business of Fashion manifesto ‘#rewiringfashion’, with an international community of designers and retailers. And two things keep coming up for the future of survival… intimacy and desire. The desire for authenticity with a genuine back story and the intimacy of things made in smaller quantities and made sustainably with craftsmanship and retailed in a more intimate environment… these are not new customer values for either Jeremy or myself; we know our customers share our passions and their knowledge of what we both provide is tantamount to why they come back and why we love welcoming them back.
And so I wanted to talk about our back story, our Connolly ‘hand’ and about those whom we rely on for this beauty… the hands that create it. Whether it is our Connolly Leather trimmers for the car industry or our leather workshops in Spain. And how, now, we need very much to keep them in business or we will all become one big mass of commercially perfect badged products or restaurants, branded and personalised but created and engendered in an environment that is designed for expediency and global purchasing and a certain homogenised perfection… with less soul or sense of craftsmanship and skill.
With remote working practises, artificial intelligence, autonomous cars and 3D printing increasingly dominating our cultural landscape, it may feel as if the need for craftsmanship in commercial production is reducing. However, over the past decade, and now more urgently, there has been a profound global shift away from mass-produced throwaway goods and a rise in valuing the art of process coupled with a desire to mentally and emotionally invest in the finished product. In times of social, environmental and economic uncertainty, it seems people are not only seeking products that are built to last but which also allow an element of customisation of individuality. With this in mind, I feel that craftsmanship is more relevant than ever and in our bespoke leather automotive business with the latest Ferrari or a classic Jaguar restoration, it’s a personal choice; balancing traditional techniques with modern design and advancements paired with a passion for history and the hard earned skills to execute a creative vision. It is the ability to create something of long-lasting value through the pursuit of mastery of the craft itself, rather than status.
THE CONNOLLY WORKBENCH STOOL
And that is why I wanted to tell the story of the Connolly workbench stool. On a visit to our leather workshops in Ubrique, I noticed that by each workbench, there were a couple of wooden stools – all designed the same, some very old and some much newer… always with a thumb sized a hole in the top to lift up and move it easily. This perfect, simple shape was hand made from local oak… they have been making them for over 60 years… it was both elegant and practical. I asked if we could make a limited edition for Connolly, the seat covered in our beautiful veg tanned leather, moulded and stretched by hand when wet, to make sure it has a very smooth finish. We all now use them by our desks at Connolly… to sit with a colleague or put a pile of work on, just as they do in Ubrique. I have never put them in the shop to sell because I love them too much… I don’t know how you imbue value or soul into such a simple thing… but they did. The feel of the hand is there and the knowledge and the tradition but also the future of luxury retail is there… I suspect it is what in the next decade we will buy and treasure those things that speak to us and we can keep forever.
Isabel recommends the following books:
Image of craftsmanship in Ubrique photographed by Richard Gaston.
Image of Ferrari interior by O'Rourke Coachtrimmers and DK Engineering with the leather interior by Connolly Leather.
Images of the Connolly stools photographed by Theo Zeal.
Leather in Ubrique film directed by Michael Lebor.