Leather has historically had a bit of an image problem in menswear. In some ways, this is understandable – too many of its exponents have gone down the unfortunate paths of ill-fitting biker jackets, weirdly branded motorsport cash- ins or patch-covered WW2 repro-wear (good rule of thumb – unless you’re actually a member of a flight squadron or a motocross team, you shouldn’t really be wearing their gear). And let’s not start on the entry-level pieces that many of us encountered in Camden Market as teenagers, that left us with indelible memories of fabrics that swiftly cracked and dried out, strange synthetic chemical odours and the kind of comfort level you’d normally associate with a diving bell. As a result, too many men think of leather in terms of a small, set number of items and styles which aren’t for them, rather than going back to first principles and thinking of leather as a versatile, adaptable material.
This sartorial prejudice does leather a huge disservice. It makes more sense if you consider it as an entire material that can be used sparingly to transform your outfit. At its best, leather was the first technical fabric: an incredibly hard wearing, repairable, waterproof material which aged beautifully. Breathable in summer, warm and wind-stopping in winter, easily cleanable and somewhat impervious to trends or seasons, it was like a natural GORE-TEX. All those qualities are still the case today, but were occluded for many years by bad design, cheap, mass-market production of low quality pieces and a narrowing of leather’s utility to bulky outwear.
For all the qualities outlined above, leather is the ideal fabric for everyday wear. Historically, the best exponents of leatherwear have made it a low-key cornerstone of their look with just one piece; Andy Warhol favoured a simple, slim cut lightweight black jacket with press-stud fastenings which paired with everything from a polo neck sweater to a tuxedo; David Bowie’s jacket on the cover of Heroes comes with a wide collar, zip front and knit cuffs but a close, fitted cut which places it closer to a shirt than a jacket; Bob Marley frequently wore a similar model over everything from a blue chambray shirt to denim overalls and a fair isle knit. None of them were men who you’d especially associate with ‘wearing leather’, but it was a regular feature of their outfits nonetheless.
The key thing with all these looks was a measure of simplicity – no extraneous zips, pockets, epaulettes, belts or patches – and the use of leather as just another fabric. For a modern application of this, think about going beyond what you might ordinary pair leather with – denim is fine, but sportier elements also contrast well with it and deliver maximum comfort (the Gentile Pant works for this, as does a plain crew neck or the Area Jersey Top with its mock neck). Avoid heavy leather boots and offset your top half with a pair of Moonstars on your feet.
The crucial thing is to think of leather as an investment piece. Cheap leather is cheap because it’s made from lower quality material, less likely to last and sourced from places that cut corners in animal welfare and product treatment. Every piece Studio Nicholson work with is carefully sourced from a single trusted tannery that makes buttery soft, 100% lamb leather in a beautiful matt finish. This is then precision cut and manufactured to make sure that it sits as comfortably on you as any cotton piece, moves and adapts to your body and prioritises comfort. Leather is a fabric that will age and personalise to you in the same way that raw denim will, but without the long early period of rigidity and ‘breaking in’. It’s a natural material with decades of life ahead of it.
The preconception with leather is that it’s overly bold, or too tied to one style for most men to try without worrying that they’ll look like Rob Halford riding his motorbike on stage with Judas Priest or Al Pacino trying to go undercover in Cruising. Studio Nicholson have solved this by creating leather garments with the same qualities as the rest of the collection – voluminous cuts, easy-to- wear shapes, comfortable, masculine items for wearing every day and constructing a modular wardrobe from. The Nebo jacket in dark navy is the most obvious entry point and can be worn in any context that a chore jacket or overshirt would work in. The Hector leather shirt is a straight-cut, short sleeve shirt and the perfect way to break up a monochrome outfit with texture rather than having to introduce a contrasting colour. And with summer incoming, the Maison shorts offer an alternative to the ill-fitting sportswear, or schoolboy-ish tailored shorts that tend to be most men’s sole options once the sun comes out.
Again, if leather is just viewed as a fabric that can be played with and adapted, its possible applications open up across the whole wardrobe and far beyond just jackets and coats. It’s still a bold look, but paired with the right items and viewed as a luxurious source of comfort, it suddenly becomes far more adaptable and easy to inject into your everyday outfits.
Words by Justin Quirk