Owen Leather - Reimagining Leather Craft

Craft Editions spent a wonderful two hours in the company of Harry Owen at his studio in North London in December 2016. What was immediately apparent was how Owen Leather is the product of the enticing combination of Harry’s youthful passion and his deep knowledge of his craft. It might seem unusual to find someone so young with such skill, but this is because Harry spent a decade “educating his hands” at a cobbler’s shop in Muswell Hill where he had a Saturday job whilst still at school. His training continued more formally on a 3-D Design degree at Camberwell College of Art and from that, Owen Leather was born.

Harry says he never intended to be a leather craftsman as his love of woodwork led him to think he’d become a furniture maker. However, on completing a project for his degree, where he received more praise for the leather seat on his wooden stool than for the stool itself, he decided to try working in leather and was hooked. Harry felt that once he started leatherwork by hand it was different, “it’s physical, it’s repetitive, demanding, but it’s lovely as well.”

Unlike more traditional leather craftspeople, Harry is conscious of not being trained as a saddler but he has turned this into a positive advantage “I feel I've got a smorgasbord of things I'm allowed to use and allowed to try. And my design training allows me to mull over the details from a different perspective.” Whilst he is aware that he could have spent longer honing his skills, working for someone else was never really an option “I just don’t like people telling me what to do! I’ve always thought that I’d work for myself.” 

Most of Harry’s larger luxury goods are bespoke and he says he feels happiest when he is in control of the creative output. He clearly has a unique ability to collaborate and produce beautiful items that both he and his customers are happy with. In some respects it’s hard to describe the Owen Leather look, however what unites all his work is its aesthetic simplicity. As a designer Harry is influenced by the ideas of the Wiener Werkstatte and the Modernist arts and crafts movement of the early C20th “I like the attention to detail in their objects and how the ornamentation is often functional.”

His desire to bring this simplicity to his own work gives each of his pieces a timeless quality. Harry is quick to point out that this is easier said than done! By way of illustration he showed Craft Editions his contemporary reimagining of a Gladstone bag. His designer’s eye has enabled him to re-engineer this classic piece by removing the frame to make it physically lighter, as well as taking away any unnecessary detail to make it minimal and more modern.

The ethos of doing whatever is best for each individual piece drives the design, materials and craftsmanship of Owen Leather. This is why Harry uses traditional methods and tools “there are reasons that these kind of techniques have lasted for so long.” Accordingly, his preferred tanneries are Sedgewicks in Walsall and Bakers of Colton in Devon - one of the few remaining oak-bark tanneries in the world. There has been a tannery on this site for over 400 years producing leather with a lovely natural, honey tone. “I want to use the best materials for the job. It's down to the piece more than it's down to me.” 

In a culture of throwaway fashion Harry strives to make beautiful and durable leather items that people want to cherish and keep forever. He sees Owen Leather as part of an important age-old tradition, “Craftspeople have always been here countering consumption.” For him personally, leatherwork is “quiet, meticulous and peaceful, everything I could have wanted in a craft.” It is Harry’s strength of character and his commitment to his craft that is establishing him as an accomplished craftsman and building the profile and reputation of Owen Leather. 

Find out more about Owen Leather here.

Images by Craft Editions and courtesy of Owen Leather.