Connolly is a very special 140-year-old British brand, founded in 1878 as a small family business of saddlers and shoe-smiths. As the car industry developed, so Connolly grew with it and evolved to become the globally-renowned supplier of highly- finished leather for the automobile industry.
The soul of Connolly has always been intrinsically connected with classic motor racing and touring, coupled with a strong sense of British know-how, craft and a sense of humour. For over a century its history was to be found in the production of the finished leather that graced the seats of Rolls Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Aston Martin. The automotive connection is alive and well in the form of Connolly Brothers (Curriers), which operates under licence from Connolly and is run by a present member of the family, Jonathan Connolly. The company’s unique interiors are still prized by owners of the best classic cars and can be specified in new Ferraris and found special editions such as the ‘new’ limited Jaguar E-Type.
Beyond the world of motoring, Connolly leather has also been used on many of Britain’s most famous seats, including the House of Commons (green), the House of Lords (red), the desks of the British Library, the iconic Eames recliner chair, Concorde, and even the Queen’s Coronation coach.
A NEW PHASE
In 1995, the company entered a new phase, which recognised that the Connolly name and history had great resonance amongst men, not just in the classic car world, but as a particularly well-loved British company. And so the company moved into the world of luxury retail.
Under the creative guidance of Isabel Ettedgui, the new brand was born, literally, in a stable – in Grosvenor Crescent Mews off London’s Belgrave Square. Designed by the renowned architect Andrée Puttman, but with many original features such as the stalls left intact, this destination shop launched with a collection of leather goods designed by Ross Lovegrove, cashmere, the first ‘car shoes’ in London, and all manner of motoring delights and accessories. One of the highest accolades came from Ralph Lauren, who declared in print that it was his ‘favourite store in the world’.
In 2000, Isabel’s husband Joe Ettedgui (founder of Joseph) acquired the business and a larger, new flagship opened in Conduit Street, once again designed by Puttman. Under the direction of Joe, both the range of menswear and carefully- curated fashion offering grew and soon became a significant part of the brand. For many, Connolly in Conduit Street was to become synonymous with ‘British luxury’.
PAUSE FOR THOUGHT
Following Joe’s death in 2010 the shop closed and Isabel decided to regroup, renewing all the company’s trademarks and licensing Jonathan Connolly, the next generation of the family, to reproduce Connolly leather once more for the automotive industry.
CONNOLLY REBORN - NO. 4
Isabel always believed that finding the right home for Connolly would be the first step to re-launching. No.4 Clifford Street is that home, an elegant Georgian building – one of the oldest in London’s Mayfair. The street is one of its finest, with original buildings and a gentle mix of residential, office, retail, galleries and cafés. And it is – literally – the home, not only of the business, but of its owner and creative director. In time-honoured shopkeeper tradition, Isabel Ettedgui does actually live ‘above the shop’.
The house, dating from 1730, has been meticulously restored. This beautiful building and its architectural history has been re-imagined by Gilles & Boissier, the Paris-based architects and designers, into a contemporary retail space and showroom set over three floors. The Connolly collection
of clothes, leather goods and accessories are beautifully presented in hand-crafted cabinets and shelving in fumed oak and hornbeam, surrounded by elegant wood panelling.
The shop sells Connolly’s own Classic Collection of clothes for men and women, the automotive-inspired Driving Collection, cashmere knitwear from Scotland, a beautiful and practical range of leather goods and a concisely-edited collection of accessories from the likes of Charvet and Car Shoe.
Customers feel completely at home in this warm and welcoming environment that both evokes the past and sets the scene for the present story of Connolly.
“What made the Connolly brand a success in the past was a consistency and a balance in the product offered, classic tailoring referenced in the heritage of the golden age of classic cars and racing, and a modern designer-led leather collection. If the inspiration and goodwill came from our past, the secret of our success has been that it didn’t remain there. By using modern designers like Andrée Puttman, Ross Lovegrove, Seymour Powell and Sebastian Conran, the customer really bought into the idea of the ‘modern classic’.
And this concept still has momentum. Fashion in the new Connolly is focused and strongly edited, combining wearability and luxurious practicality. It is loosely based around classic sportswear, emphasising functionality, desirability and comfort. The wider product offering has a more curated personal touch and, crucially, is backed up by excellent service.”
Entering No. 4 Clifford Street, the visitor immediately feels swept into the world of Connolly, but the beautiful product is only part of that sensation. The quality and aesthetics of the interior and all its details are what make it feel so special. Spread over three floors, each space is completely distinctive yet feels part of a coherent whole. The floors are linked by the remarkable and sculptural black wooden staircase. The palette of black, dark grey, white, cream and honey-beige weaves through different walls, floors, carpets and shelving. The lighting, making full use of the latest tiny LED fittings, is extraordinarily subtle.
The interior was designed by Gilles & Boissier, the Paris- based design practice founded by Patrick Gilles and Dorothée Boissier in 2004. The practice has become known for its timeless elegance, using natural colours, textures and materials in a distinctly modern way. The duo have become much sought-after as designers of the very best restaurants, shops and hotels with clients such as Moncler, Hogan, Baccarat, Mandarin Oriental and Four Seasons.
The first floor is home to carefully-curated antiques, objets d’art and motoring memorabilia selection, and houses regular exhibitions. The ground floor is dedicated to the leather collection, and the tailoring and classic collection, whilst the driving collection is located on the lower ground.