A leather cutter who makes totes for Mulberry
A leather cutter who turns hides into Mulberry totes
MITCH ALLENDER GREW up just three miles from the Mulberry factory in Somerset, but it wasn’t until he began his apprenticeship there 10 years ago that he discovered his affinity for the fashion brand’s handbags – and for making them by hand. ‘Seven months in I took to leather cutting, and that ’s what I’ve done since,’ he says.
Allender, 27, began by shadowing a veteran cutter, learning what to look for in the materials and how to manipulate the tools. Now he’s one of four specialist leather cutters in the development team, pro ducing prototyp e s of the handbags that appear swinging from models’ shoulders on the runway or in Mulberry’s Bond Street windows.
His favourite design to cut, he says, is the Zipped Bayswater: a streamlined ver- sion of Mulberry’s bestselling shoulder bag, which – as with all other handbags – starts out as an animal hide.
Most of the hides Mulberry uses come from the nether regions of Italian cows. ‘The bum section of the animal… is tighter and more structured,’ Allender explains. After selecting his hide from the storeroom, he marks out each panel of the pattern on the skin in a step he calls one of the most challenging. ‘ You want to get a bag that’s uniform, that looks like it’s come from one piece i nst ea d of l ot s of di ff e re nt pi ec e s stitched together.’
Next, he adds fabric or fibre reinforcements to achieve the structure, then bonds the panel to its lining, usually Italian suede. Allender’s main tools – a hand knife, patterns and hammers – haven’t changed since the 18th century. To reduce the weight at the edge of the leather, ready for stitching, the panels are sent for ‘sciving’. Finally, stitching specialists assemble the bags and inkers finish the edges.
Each bag can go through eight ‘drafts’ before it’s approved, says Allender. His work can be painstaking – his team focuses on as few as eight bags a day – with hazards that seem at odds with the delicate results: ‘ You work with sharp knives, so you do have to be careful not to cut yourself.’
But there’s always an element of novelty, of bringing something into being that hasn’t existed before. ‘Sometimes you’ve got to do stuff several times to get it right,’ Allender says. ‘And we’re changing all the time. Every couple of months we start from scratch again.’
From top Mitch Allender in the Mulberry factory; at work on a Brimley Envelope bag – many of the tools haven’t changed since the 18th century; the finished Mulberry Zipped Bayswater handbags.