Leather and suede used to be thought of as typical point-to-point gear for middle-aged, middle-class women. The classic coats went straight up and down in a boring, unflattering cut and never dated, because they never had any style to begin with. Then black leather acquired a ton-up image, associated with open throttles, adenoids and inarticulateness.
Manufacturers started to bring prices down by abandoning elaborate handstitching, and making fewer, but smarter, designs in a small range of fashion-conscious colours. Skins were bought in larger quantities at subsequently lower prices. Now a good leather or suede coat at £20 to £25 can be compared in quality with a cloth coat in the same price bracket.
This year’s leather look is brisk battledress, sinister SS, or early aviator: coats are worn with high leather boots and gauntlet gloves. Black leather is no longer so smart (except for the SS stuff); this year, like most other things, it is in all shades of brown, especially tan or the so-called ‘antique’ leather.
Although leather is now smarter, younger and cheaper, it is still as practical as ever, particularly for winter coats. It is windproof, waterproof and takes rough treatment, and can generally be cleaned at home. We don’t find that leather is particularly warm – suede is snugger and more supple – but a wooly button-in fur lining will provide further insulation 79s. 6d; bunny 6-7 gn. Marshall and Snelgrove). Sheepskin, of course, has its own natural lining, but although it is warm, it is so bulky that wearers tend to look sheep-shape. We wouldn’t be seen dead in a sheepskin coat, not even at a rugger match and we always feel dead at those.
Somehow a good garment in suede always looks expensive, however grubby it gets – in fact, it can look best when bashed. But beware of buying cheap suede in bright red or bright blue; these colours are not always fast. Cheap suede marks even more easily than expensive suede.
When buying a leather coat make sure that it does up high and snug – you don’t want gales howling round your clavicle. Cheap coats are often skimped, as opposed to skinny, so check that, when the buttons are done up, there is actually room to wear a skirt underneath.
The skin with the biggest impact is undoubtedly that of the snake, which started slithering onto the scene two years ago and can now be recognized as non-gimmick. Snakeskin is being made up into full-length coats at 120gn. (by Elma) at one end of the scale, and into waistcoats and culottes at the other (by Ossie Clark, 6gn. each). It is only for the daring, the self–sufficient – the snakehipped.
Where to buy hides :
Cordoba, 134 New Bond Street, London WI, and 52 Beauchamp Place, SW3. Described in the telephone directory as ‘Leather Haute Couture’; exquisite, expensive styling in subtle colours. This season’s antiqued leather coats from 51gn., washable pigskin coats from 48gn., cowboy-style jackets from 33gn., matching skirts, 18 gn.
Loewe (pronounced ‘Low-vay’), 75 Jermyn Street, London SWI, and at the London Hilton, Park Lane, WI. Handmade Spanish leather and suede goods at aristocratic prices: suede coats from 70gn., dresses, suits, handbags and luggage.
Suedecraft, 483 Oxford Street, London WI; now has retail branches in most cities: Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield, besides two others in London. Safe classic styling for men and women. Comprehensive illustrated catalogue for mail order from head office in Birdcage Walk, Otley, Yorkshire; budget schemes with weekly or monthly payments available. Reasonable prices.
Skin, 120a King’s Road, London SW3. The classy branch of the Sheepskin Shop at 435 Oxford Street, WI. Opened in October with a proportion of elegant French styles at high prices, but now concentrates on attracting the King’s Road dollies with inexpensive short-length coats, dresses, culottes and jackets; in wild colours as well as the popular browns.
The Westerner, 469 Oxford Street, London WI and 41 Old Compton Street, London WI. John Michael’s succesful venture into the cowboy field; Wild West Levi jackets, waist-coats, belts – designed primarily for men, but great on girls – in rough-tough suedes and leathers.
Granny Takes A Trip, 488 King’s Road, London SW10. One of the first boutiques to sell embroidered shaggy jackets – ideal winter wear for ex-hippies. Here is the genuine Afghan article, richly embroidered, gloriously thick. Long-sleeved jackets, about £35; short sleeveless jerkins, £10.
Ossie Clark, 52 Radnor Walk, London SW3. Proves that skin can beat other fashion fabrics hands down. Idiosyncratic styles, much admired and bought by his followers. Snakeskin culottes or waistcoats in many colours, 6gn., each; fringed suede Minnehaha dresses and boleros; short zipped leather battle-jacket, 15gn.