Personal Luxuries

Best-case scenario

The era of next-generation smartphones and tablets is driving an emergent niche for beautiful leather holders – marrying mobile technology with artisanal values. Mark C O’Flaherty reports

November 08 2012
Mark C O’Flaherty

It might be termed iLuxury. The most prestigious international fashion houses and designers have begun to produce seasonal smartphone and tablet covers, while flagship stores and online retailers are setting aside new, dedicated spaces to showcase them. Cutting-edge technology has rarely enjoyed such a symbiotic relationship with high fashion. From the recherché craftsmanship of Hermès and its 15 colours of e-Zip notebook case for the iPad (£1,430) – complete with adjustable stand, conventional notepad and pencil – to the tactile asceticism of the Spencer smartphone “folder” in soft deerskin (£150) at Smythson’s recently refurbished headquarters on New Bond Street, elegant techno accessories represent a truly new market in luxury fashion. For those of you reading this on an iPad, it may seem odd to consider such items didn’t exist two and a half years ago.

With the advancement of technology and the march towards a paperless existence, these accessories are, in some instances, taking over from bulkier, traditional briefcases and work bags: Burberry’s ostrich-leather digital case (£1,295) features both a large compartment for documents and a smaller, front-facing pouch to carry a tablet and smartphones. They are also as desirable as the objects they are designed to protect. This season’s Jimmy Choo Trent iPhone sleeves in coarse “glitter fabric” (£135) – lined in suede and with a gold-tipped grosgrain ribbon to eject the phone easily from its enclosure – are elegant statements rather than perfunctory business accessories. Comme des Garçons’ soft leather Wallet iPad holders (£289) come in 12 colours, from sky blue through to mint green, while Maison Martin Margiela has produced an eye-catching suede iPad case in an outré python “biro” print (£435).

By contrast, Mulberry’s dedicated online technology department includes decorous pieces in black and oak. From a soft nappa Daria iPhone bag (£160) to an adjustable style of iPad case (£295), these are items that will likely outlast the devices they protect. Other designers are making more heavyweight investment suggestions: Nancy Gonzalez’s Colombian crocodile-skin iPad case (£2,205) costs more than three times as much as the premium model of the tablet it was designed to fit.

For Rick Owens, the move into these accessories references his technophile influences. “Everything I make is about applying my aesthetic to the way I live personally… Electronics are a huge part of my everyday life, so it’s only natural that I customise them as much as I can.” This winter, his collection includes a range of substantial-looking leather iPhone (£115) and iPad (£260) holders in matte black or burnished gold that echo his meticulous, slightly rough-hewn modernist design ethos. The phone sleeve features a cutaway design across one corner for accessing the handset, while the tablet cover is secured via an envelope-style tab fastened with a metal stud.

Bottega Veneta’s take on stylish portable-gadget protection – described by the fashion house as “mobile meets artisanal” – includes iPhone holders (from £215) and iPad sleeves (from £430) in the brand’s immediately identifiable woven intrecciato leather, as well as a standout nappa BlackBerry holster with fold-over snap closure in a rich shade of yellow dubbed “burnt sun” (£215).

Many designers are boldly reinterpreting their trademarked graphics: Azzedine Alaïa has created, in addition to his laser-cut designs, a range of dark leather iPad pouches (£595) embossed with his signature Moorish petal motif, while Christian Louboutin’s latest iPad holder (£425) dresses up his red lacquer detailing (on the inside of the case) with black patent leather and metal studs. Other brands, meanwhile, are more focused on subtlety and fine leather. Dunhill’s iPad cases (£335) – in cowhide with a soft pigskin lining and magnetic closures – come in tan, black, brown and navy, and are influenced by the structure and fastenings of wallets from the Alfred Dunhill archive. They have been thoughtfully designed to be capacious enough to store not only the tablet, but its dual-purpose magnetic screen cover and folding stand as well. The outfitter also stocks a smartphone case (£85) finished in its durable leather and carbon-fibre Chassis composite; with versions for both iPhone and BlackBerry handsets, it allows access to buttons on either side of the devices.

As the choice of covetous smartphone and tablet brands increases, so too does the breadth of elegant cases intended to house them. BlackBerry tablet users can visit Valextra for one of the 25 colours of PlayBook folding covers in soft leather with lacquered piping (£250) that are produced by the Italian company, along with 25 shades of leather-lined tablet zip pouches with brass details (£350) designed to accommodate any Samsung Galaxy Tab, PlayBook or iPad.

That utilitarian eBook reader the Amazon Kindle is also benefitting from this emergent market. The company’s US website is home to Kate Spade New York’s exclusive range of covers for the devices, including a chic, Audrey Hepburn-style black and white Jubilee Stripe case with contrast green lining ($69) for the Kindle Fire. Smythson’s Grosvenor Kindle Touch case (£245) is decorated in the luxury stationers’ signature Nile blue with a brass clasp, and – in keeping with its penchant for personalisation – can be embossed with customisable gold lettering and motifs.

Some designers are focusing their business models entirely on this growing market for iLuxury. German designer Ilka Brand studied fashion in Berlin and Milan and set up Lapàporter in 2008 after fruitlessly searching for a sophisticated and well-designed laptop case. The company is gaining recognition in Europe for its restrained palette of natural tones, soft suede tablet-sized envelopes (€149) and cases in python and salmon skin (from €79) – including a smartphone clutch bag with additional internal pockets. “The original idea was to specialise in sleeves for Apple products, but now we offer custom-made ones,” says Brand. Each Lapàporter item is handmade in Berlin and, as she explains, “acts as a fashion accessory in its own right, as well as protection”. From sedate and subtle to bold and graphic, there’s now a high-end case for every smartphone and tablet owner. Some of them are so exquisitely finished, they might persuade you to buy a new gadget merely to justify acquiring them in the first place.