Ettinger is one of the UK’s remaining heritage brands that puts its money where its mouth is. Quite literally, when it comes to its best-selling product, the iconic Ettinger wallet in Bridle Hide leather. Its signature egg-yolk yellow lining has become a status symbol in and of itself, although the status it symbolizes isn’t that of fame or even fortune – but simply, of taste.
In the UK, there are three essential locations on the menswear map. Firstly, London, where you can pick up a bespoke suit by world-renowned tailors on Savile Row and custom design a shirt just around the corner on Jermyn Street. Secondly, Northampton, where the smartest men’s footwear is designed, sculpted, polished and perfected. The third, however, is a better kept secret.
Walsall, near Birmingham, is famous for its leather goods. Since the Industrial Revolution, the town’s craftspeople have honed expertise in saddles, chains and buckles, and even named their local football team, The Saddlers, after the craft. HRH Queen Elizabeth looks to local manufacturer Launer for her handbags; the royal family pick up equestrian gear from AH Saddler. And the Prince of Wales? He’s all about Ettinger, who has manufactured everything from leather card cases to attachés in Walsall since 1999.
But their story starts long before that. Since 1934, the family-run, second-generation business (now headed up by Robert Ettinger, son of founder Gerry) has channeled prestigious equestrian heritage and a British sense of playfulness. In 1996, the high-quality craftsmanship reached new levels of recognition when Ettinger was granted a Royal Warrant to HRH Prince of Wales, whose style places him in the most timeless of ‘best-dressed’ lists.
And timeless is what Ettinger does best. From archive-inspired designs to traditional color palettes, Ettinger’s products resist trend cycles and seasonal influences: these are pieces that last a lifetime and only get better with age. In the last couple of years, the house celebrated a decades-long relationship with a goatskin leather factory in Mazamet, France, by launching the Capra Collection. Inspired by the decade Ettinger was founded – a golden age of travel and a sartorially glamorous era – you’d be forgiven for thinking the collection was named for suave Italian-American film director Frank Capra, but in fact ‘capra’ refers to the type of goatskin leather that the factory specializes in.
While the famously soft Bridle Hide was originally designed for the comfort of jockeys with its incredibly smooth finish that patinas beautifully to a well-loved gloss, the Capra Collection makes use of a more unusual and refined leather with a distinctive grain. The goatskin is expertly tanned to shades such as deep marine blue and black to produce an elegant handful of accessories, from the classic billfold wallet to the streamlined card case.
This exceptional range, too, demonstrates Ettinger’s impressive trial-and-error approach to their designs. These are products constructed for every day wear and tear, therefore they must not only stand the test of time, but it’s crucial that the leather, stitching, binding and hardware can cope with everything the modern man demands from his wallet – from coins to credit cards, bills to business cards, tickets to dry cleaning tabs. Whilst predominantly hand-assembled, the immaculate machine stitching is something the house prides itself on – not just a construction method, its expertly-adjusted tension and neat finish sets an industry standard, too. Robert himself often road-tests new designs to get a handle on what can be improved and what works well, often returning to values he knows his customers treasure: strong craftsmanship, stylish design and superlative quality. Which is why when customers want to invest in their own legacy, fathers come to buy their sons their first wallets, or key fobs for their first car.
While always discreet in size and subtle in branding, Ettinger’s design team knows how to have fun, too. Their stainless-steel hip flasks, bound in waxy cowhide leather, come in shades of regal purple, postbox red, deep-sea turquoise and brilliant orange. They’ve become a clandestine staple at traditional British outdoor pursuits such as hunts, races and regattas (where the weather often calls for a warming mouthful of whiskey), whilst still maintaining an air of rebellion and attitude. Who hasn’t envied Benedict Cumberbatch at the 2015 Academy Awards in a white Scabal tuxedo, perfectly accessorized with a silver hip flask? Or Ryan Gosling’s casual swig in Gangster Squad (2013)? Admittedly, investing in Ettinger may not turn you into a Hollywood heartthrob. But it might kick-start a longer-lasting love affair: with quality, craftsmanship and capra leather.