Just over a year ago, Dunhill began offering bespoke leather services at Bourdon House in London. Tomasz Nosarzewski, whom readers might remember from my visit to the Walthamstow Dunhill factory last year, began spending every Thursday at Bourdon House in order to take bespoke orders – as well as perform services like repairs and embossing for customers.
I’m a big fan of these onsite services, as hopefully my series with Claire from Hermès demonstrated, and I find it no surprise that the spur for the new Dunhill service was Tomasz’s tour round Asia. He talks about how exacting Asian customers of Dunhill were and Claire spoke similarly about those that visit her on Bond Street.
To clarify, not all of Dunhill’s leather products are handmade at the Walthamstow factory (hand stitching, inking, cutting etc). It’s a small operation and only produces a few lines at a time, the current models including a briefcase and structured weekend bag. These pieces are labelled Alfred Dunhill rather than plain Dunhill.
It was always possible to have items custom made in Walthamstow. A customer anywhere in the world could select a model and a leather and the order would be emailed over. Bespoke is different. It means starting from scratch, with specific needs, paper sketches and trial models. A famous perfumer, for example, recently had a leather cube made that folded out to display the scores of test tube samples he carried with him.
“This is the height of what we do, both technically and creatively,” says Tomasz.
Following a discussion with the client, Tomasz creates a mock-up for the customer made from ‘salpa’ (Italian). You can write on it, you can cut it, you can rip it apart and propose a new shape. The material is very cheap but behaves enough like leather. In the example below, it was decided to turn the handle around 90 degrees so that the seam would be on the side, to make it easier to carry. It also looks more masculine that way round.
Tomasz aims to make just one sample per customer, but some make several changes and one even insisted on seeing the piece complete with its lining. Other examples of recent pieces include a camera bag and a car key fob complete with the embossed logo of the auto manufacturer.
Do customers usually have specific ideas about what they want? “It depends. Most customers have a decent idea, but they want to be guided. They want advice about how things should be arranged, about the leather and so on,” says Tomasz.
It’s hard to give an idea of price, but as a basic guide a simple document case in plain calf leather will start at around £1500. Given that Asian customers are ordering sports bags in green, matte, crocodile leather, price can’t be much of an issue for most of Tomasz’s clients.
Dunhill also has a nice video of a document case being done in Walthamstow: