PAST, PRESENT & THE FUTURE: ROBERT ETTINGER TALKS ETTINGER BRAND & BUSINESS

Posted on by Cameron Tewson

According to Walpole, the United States is the biggest market for UK luxury goods outside the European Union, accounting for 23% of exports, or about £9 billion ($11.6 billion) a year – and just another one to add to that is Ettinger. The British brand recently announced the launch of its new home in New York City, and residency in the Turnbull & Asser Townhouse, located on 50 E 57th Street NYC. The residency means Ettinger’s extensive portfolio of luxury leather wallets, accessories and bags as well as its Flagship Services (including its new bespoke and personalisation offer) are now available across the pond.

With a saturated market, of leather goods, latest collaborations (Mulberry x Acne Studios for example), just how do you expand an 85-year-old business but keep brand traditions? Post the brand’s Turnbull launch, I sit down with CEO of Ettinger, Robert Ettinger to discuss the brand and its future. Here’s what he had to say:

CT: Hi Robert, for those who don’t know about Ettinger, can you give my readers an overview of about the brand?

RE: After an early career in film production where he was lucky enough to work with the legendary actress, Marlene Dietrich, my father, Gerry Ettinger, moved to London and established the company in 1934. Using his extensive contacts in Europe to help create a range of luxury gifts and leather goods, Ettinger quickly became known for the quality and innovation of its goods which were sold in leading department stores and shops such as Harrods, Asprey and Fortnum & Mason.

In 1990, I took over the reins from my father – although he still came into the office until he was 91! – and have continued the tradition of craftsmanship and quality whilst creating new and more contemporary designs and collections. In 1996, we were granted a Royal Warrant to HRH The Prince of Wales and in 1999, we acquired one of Walsall’s oldest leather goods manufacturing companies, James Homer Ltd. Production moved from London to Walsall and new life was breathed into the local leather goods industry.

Today, Ettinger is one of the few remaining British leather goods companies still successfully manufacturing in the UK and exporting its products to customers all over the world. 2019 is our 85th Anniversary year.

CT: With timeless designs and the most luxurious of leathers used, what is the creative process on collections and how often do you produce new products?

RE: All our designs are created in-house at our London head office in Putney. The process starts with the design, marketing and sales teams brain storming ideas together. I also get a lot of ideas and inspiration when travelling on business as I see how different markets embrace different accessories and how they are using them. From this the designers mock up images of the ideas, which are then sent to the factory for their comments. Quite often a suggested design is so complicated to manufacture, things have to be tweaked to make it work. Then a first sample is made, assessed and tested. It often takes up to a year from sitting around a table to a product actually being launched and sometimes even longer, so quite a journey from beginning to end.  New products are produced every year but we don’t have a set timetable or work to the fashion show seasons. When a new product’s development is definitely underway, we plan its launch date and how that best fits in with our trade show presentations and media timetable.

CT: Where do you source your materials?

RE: Wherever possible we source our materials in the UK – from buckles for our belts, to zips for our purses, poppers for our new watch rolls or linings for our products. With regard to our leathers, this is not always possible, so we commission and select the best tanned skins from a number of tanneries, all of whom are based in Europe. Having developed special relationships with these tanneries over many years ensures we can maintain our leather supply standards and offer an extensive range of leathers, many of which are exclusive to Ettinger. Our newest Capra collection is a wonderful goatskin that we used a lot in the 1930s and we have gone back to the same tannery that supplied us then in South West France.  

CT: What do you think makes Ettinger stand out in the market?

RE: You can always pick out an Ettinger. Our designs, our leathers and the bold use of colours very much sets Ettinger products apart. Where possible we use British leathers and the finish of our products is second to none. Our designs are real classics and we use some lovely colours, many of which feature boldly on the outside of our products.

Image: Ettinger factory, via The Rake Magazine

CT: What do you think are the greatest challenges that Ettinger and other luxury leather goods brands face today?

RE: For those of us who wholesale, one of the biggest challenges is controlling retailing both on and offline. It is very important for us all to be sold in the right environment and at the correct retail price. Another challenge is of course IPP (International Property Protection) which is essential but costly, time consuming and very frustrating at times!

CT: In 1996, Ettinger was granted a Royal Warrant to HRH The Prince of Wales. How important was this moment to the company’s success?

RE: This was indeed a seminal moment for the company and particularly on the international stage as it signified quality, respect and trust and has helped open business for us in many countries around the world.

Countries such as Japan hold the British Royal Family in great esteem and their approval has allowed Japan to become one of our strongest markets. We are stocked in over 170 shops there and have our only Ettinger shop in Tokyo in the fashionable Ginza district.

Since launching our on-line shop seven years ago, we have sold to customers in over 210 countries and with our top end product – our bespoke attaché cases – costing over four thousand pounds, customers happily purchase without having seen or touched the item in person, with this reassurance.

CT: Congratulations on your new residency in the Turnbull & Asser store in New York, incredible! How important is this in the brand’s milestone?

RE: This opportunity and the coming together of Ettinger and Turnbull & Asser in New York is undoubtedly one of our most exciting brand and retail collaborations to date. With its twenty year history in the heart of midtown Manhattan and amazing customer profile over that time, the uplift for Ettinger in the US as a result of this new Residency cannot be underestimated.

We are also delighted that Ettinger Bespoke is being offered alongside Turnbull & Asser’s bespoke services. We really see that as an exciting development for both brands as the appeal of bespoke gets ever bigger amongst our discerning customers.

Image: The Turnbull & Asser store, located on 50 E 57th St, New York, NY 10022

CT: Do you see an Ettinger store in New York or other markets soon?

RE: To be honest, no, but I do see more retail collaborations such as Turnbull’s New York and on that subject, am delighted to announce that we are opening ‘The Ettinger Accessories Room’ in Gieves & Hawkes’ No.1 Savile Row London store at the end of this month – a year after we first went in with a smaller selection of our best-selling Bridle Hide products.

CT: What is next for Ettinger?

RE: Our real focus for the future is international expansion. Through our website we already sell to customers in over 210 countries, but we are also keen to expand our wholesale business and are focussing a lot of time, energy and budget in the US currently as American customers are second only to the UK online. We also continue to export a considerable amount to the Far East and have been looking to develop in China and also in the Middle East.

Discover more about Ettinger here: www.ettinger.co.uk

About Cameron Tewson

Cameron Tewson is the editor and founder of frontrowedit.co.uk. The online media outlet which launched in 2012 was designed to share his thoughts and observations within the fashion & luxury industry. Rising through the ranks. Since leaving school at the tender age of 16, Cameron has consulted for leading global organisations and has been named one of the 7th top influencers to follow as well as a 30 under 30 rising star in the UK. He can be found instagramming at @camerontewson View all posts by Cameron Tewson →