Lewis Leathers - keeping bikers brilliantly stylish since 1892
1st September 2020
Lewis Leathers – keeping bikers brilliantly stylish since 1892
Lewis Leathers is Britain’s oldest motorcycle clothing company. Founded in 1892, just seven years after the invention of the motorbike, the company makes a range of high-quality leather clothes, footwear and accessories.
Selling a blend of practical vintage designs aimed squarely at stylish bikers and funky footwear for those more inspired by the street than the road, Lewis Leathers is a company that celebrates its history while keeping a sharp eye on the present.
From designing protective clothes for Spitfire test pilots to the creation of the Bronx jacket, much loved by 1950s Ton Up Boys, and even dressing Iggy Pop, Lewis has clothed the establishment and rebels for 128 years.
We popped into their London store and caught up with company owner Derek, to find out more about the brand.
What is the history of the brand.. how did it start?
Lewis Leathers began life in 1892 as D Lewis Ltd, a menswear shop on Great Portland Street, London, As years went by, the nature of the street changed and by the 1910’s motor car manufacturers increasingly based their showrooms there, so many in fact, that it was nicknamed ‘Motor Alley,’ by the locals. The end of the WW1 saw demobbed officers looking for new thrills and affordable motor cars were available, Motorists needed warm clothing and D Lewis, being the only manufacturing and retail clothier in the street, were happy to oblige with purpose-made leather coats, fur-lined boots, gloves, helmets and goggles.
Around this time Motorcycling was also booming, step forward D Lewis with their motorcycle clothing range, by 1924 the company was producing track racing suits, these featured separate jackets and trousers and also soon caught on with road users.
Post WW2 saw continued petrol rationing and motorcycling really took off, for the next decade, D Lewis’ range didn’t stray very far from it pre-war styles but in the winter of 1955 a new jacket style debuted at the trade shows, The Bronx, aimed solidly at the younger rider, the Bronx was Lewis’ first step at taking its line into a new era, dominated by teenagers, motorcycles and Rock n Roll style.
Although the Bronx carried an American name to attract customers it was in reality a revamped Lewis style from the late 1920’s with a sharper cut, cool name and a bright red lining. It quickly became their best seller for the next decade and the next step on the road to modernity for the company.
What is your production process from a well used vintage item to one on the rack?
Back in 1991 I suggested remaking a line based on Lewis’ classic designs of the 50’s to the 70’s, luckily, we got the green light and began buying high grade vintage jackets from Portobello market. From there we took the jackets to an elderly pattern maker in London’s east end, who had worked in tailoring since the 30’s, he produced a set of five patterns, the genesis of the new/retro line-up began.
What makes leather the best option in terms of sustainability/longevity?
In terms of motorcycle wear, leather was immediately the first choice, due to its hard wearing durability and abrasion resistance, importantly, it also keeps you warm. Leather motorcycle jackets are hard wearing and last a long time, a well-made jacket does not come cheap but over time can be a very economical purchase, ‘Yours for years,’ was one of our old strap lines and that’s still the case today.
Why the emphasis on specifically motorcycle jackets?
The leather motorcycle has been our core business for 100 years, it is what we are best known for and is therefore still our main item.
What in your opinion makes leather so timeless?
Early-on the motorcycle jacket gained a niche in popular culture as a representation of the aura of danger and toughness, originally worn for protection by daredevil riders on track and road and later by working class teenagers in gangs of the 50’s and 60’s it wasn’t long before it was adopted by wearers who wanted to be associated with the image without necessarily riding a bike, there is something that resonates about the original daredevil spirit of the riders, it has also seen use in so many movies over the decades whether worn by the hero or the anti-hero, this combined with its toughness has elevated the leather jacket to an iconic article of clothing.
How have you had to tailor your business during the pandemic?
Lewis Leathers is still a family run company so I and my wife Saaya managed to keep the company going over lockdown. We also have two shops in Japan and wholesale customers in countries much less affected by Covid so we were also busy working with them. Our factory re-opened when the Govt gave us the go ahead and we were lucky to have two good collaboration orders waiting along, with a backlog of retail and wholesale customer orders, retail business though has been slower since reopening but our staff still have plenty to keep busy with.
To find out even more about the brand or to check out their online store click here!