By Jessica Aiers, Business Development Manager, UKLF
The National Leather Collection (NLC) hosted a series of lunchtime lectures in late November revealing the history of leathercraft, in conjunction with the University of Northampton and as part of the University of London Being Human Festival.
The topics covered included leather boots, drinking vessels and on the third and final day, a focus on design. Bill Amberg, a Trustee of NLC (and also Cockpit Arts) gave a very well-received talk on his career working with leather. As all good stories should, it started at the beginning and Bill explained that as a young child, his fascination began with this mother bringing home scraps of leather referred to in the trade as "cabbage" from local cobblers in his native Northampton. Following apprenticeships in Australia with cousin Penny Amberg in saddlery and case-making, he returned to England and opened his first shop in London selling leather accessories in 1985.
Bill cites his mother's influence as a Scandinavian architect with the disciplines' attention to the modern aesthetic as the reason he became interested in the elemental use of materials. His work aims to develop, experiment and innovate what can be done with leather and his move into interiors was influenced by the design possibilities of the swage line. This is a design feature used in other industries such as blacksmithing and car design, where the strength and flexibility of the material is moulded into a 3-D shape with no structural skeleton, such as his eponymous Rivet Stool.
Bill's interest in the design of interiors continues with flooring; initially a 300 m square leather floor for Selfridges men's shoe department, which was subsequently moved and reinstalled in three different locations. Bill credits leather as a lining material - on wall and/or floor - with possessing a certain acoustic and thermal quality unmatched by other types of covering. In recent years he has most notably covered the subterranean stairway at Leathersellers Hall in Bishopsgate, supplied the hand-stitched 9-metre long reception desk at Shard London and there are plenty of other projects in the pipeline.
Although in business for over 30 years and counting, Bill is keen that through the use of traditional skills and modern techniques he and his team are constantly developing. His studio is known for having the workshop space literally at the heart of it where the creative work can be seen by all that enter. With a core team of craftspeople skilled in bookbinding, saddlery and case making, his team share knowledge and working together to innovate new prototypes in in-house experiments, such as "stack". This is a new way of using leather scrap and reusing workshop waste. Although not commercially viable at present due to the need for purpose-built machinery to handle the leather, stacking and gluing strips of leather provides a durable and beautiful surface material for many applications such as furniture and flooring, as it passes fire code testing.
Other current ideas Bill is willing to share include weaving leather for light fittings (Bill believes that light fittings look ugly when not in use) and the mixing ceramics and leather, and he cites increasing levels of design work from the luxury sector of the drinks industry, such as whisky distilleries.
The lecture series was a great way to launch the National Leather Collection, hosting a collection of over 5,000 unique items and library of over 3,000 volumes on leather. The museum is currently open on Wednesdays from 10am – 4pm with the intention to be fully accessible to the public by Spring 2018. See more here.