A leather cut­ter who makes totes for Mul­berry

A leather cut­ter who turns hides into Mul­berry totes

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - CONTENT - In­ter­view by Emily Cronin. Pho­to­graphs by James Arthur Allen

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.

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