Personal Luxuries

Hide & sleek

True style doesn’t shout its presence, especially not in the realm of men’s small leather accessories. Tom Stubbs presents the latest (discreetly).

May 17 2011
Tom Stubbs

“He that displays too often his wife and his wallet is in danger of having both of them borrowed,” stated Benjamin Franklin. Today, discretion still has much to be said for it – at least in the world of small luxury leather goods. Everyday items such as a man’s wallet, iPad case or even key fob can transcend the utilitarian to be low-key but significant style statements – as definitive in this respect as his shoes.

Many brands are bringing their distinctive design style to bear on small leather accessories, a sensible move given that this is an entry point to luxury for many consumers. The result is a new realm of products in which quiet style wins out over ostentation and heavy branding.

Production of flawless leather is fundamental to the Tod’s brand. Its “hammered” calf wallets (from £140) are light, remarkably supple and pleasurable to handle. Along with Vachetta, Tod’s signature light tan, are deeper browns, dark green and navy, all with Tod’s discreet metal lettering on the exterior. An alligator-skin wallet (from £545) with a single band of stitching down the centre constitutes a manly statement piece without being brash. Tod’s cardholder range deploys more exuberant colour with agreeable results; its extensive collection includes orange leather (£80) and precious skins ranging from dusty pink python (£160) to pistachio alligator (£300).

Slim enough to slip inside a jacket pocket, a cardholder is a natural choice for functions where only a few notes and some cards are required. Berluti produces a particularly good range with distinctive antique patinas (from £180).

Valextra, with its clinical, graphic approach and clean block colours, has also come up with seriously good-looking pieces. Its larger coat and travel wallets have a deco appeal in pergamena off-white, with a distinctive V motif in the cardholder slots (£450). Covers and cases specifically made for BlackBerry’s Playbook (£250) and the iPad (from £400) display serene curves and lines. These items have a futuristic quality while also seeming to evoke a bygone era of rarefied luxe.

Meanwhile, cases for tablet computers are the leather accessories du jour. The engineered, glassy lines of the iPad et al are suited to gentle curves and matte leathers with little surface pattern. Black somehow doesn’t hold its own against the various tans, browns, greys, whites and blues that are available. The Hermès iPad Station (£932) looks like a smart document case and, in its Togo calfskin guise, comes in the famous house orange. The iPad Station has “instant classic” written all over it. Hermès also produces alluring notebook covers. The Ulysse, a single piece of Togo calfskin with no turning or stitching, comes in four sizes (£110-£280) and many delicate colours, and is a perfect entrée into the Hermès world.

Refined un-topstitched products are a subtle aesthetic sub-trend. Nappa is Smythson’s new capsule range made from pliant, matte black lambskin with no external stitching. The wallets (from £175), card case (£120) and money clip (£185), as well as travel accessories, are all nicely understated. For something more traditional, consider the Arlington collection in grained black, chestnut calf leather or navy, which includes valet key fob (£40), passport cover (£80), laptop case (£475) and currency holder (£140). The brand name is embossed inconspicuously on the outside.

Also subtly branded is the new Cordovan collection from Dunhill. Traditionally, Cordovan leather is used for footwear; it has a rich, dark blood colour with a sheeny patina that improves with age and use. The classic eight-card billfold wallet (£325), coat wallet (£425) and travel-card case (£195) are handsome accessories. The styling, like the “Alfred Dunhill” stamp on these, is understated. As at most of the luxury houses, custom or bespoke leather orders can also be placed at Dunhill, where specific materials, dimensions and details can be chosen and optional initials embossed.

Swaine Adeney Brigg has been crafting fine leather goods since the 1750s, and is also channelling British tradition. Its folding coin purse (£130), Farmer’s and Yen wallets (both £190) in bright “London tan” (as well as chestnut, black and two-tone calf) are full of character. An embossed monogram service is also offered.

Louis Vuitton’s Monogram and Damier lines are instantly recognisable, but for small objects, there are subtler options. The Epi black leather line with carved veins in relief, is ideal for smaller items, such as the Marco wallet (£345) and card holder (£120). Meanwhile, the Taiga line, launched in 1993, has had fresh colours added to the range. Cool tones, such as pale Polaire and deep blue Boreal, are restrained, and these textured, glazed leather pieces (such as the compact wallet, £345, passport cover, £320, and long wallet, £315) feel substantial and precisely hewn with unturned edges. All items have the house monogram stamped on the exterior.

Vuitton produced customised items from its inception, and now two options of hot-stamping or hand-painting can be applied to leather goods. The hot stamping is an elegant touch and is free of charge. For those who hanker after readable signature motifs, Vuitton launches its Damier Infini collection in late August. The signature checkerboard pattern will be in embossed relief (red and grey).

Pieces made with woven leatherwork are an interesting emerging trend. Bottega Veneta’s well-known Intrecciato woven leather items include wallets (£235), iPad covers (£365), and BlackBerry and iPhone cases (£180), in a range of eye-catching colours. Bottega’s iPhone cases in soft crocodile (£420) and document cases in glossy crocodile (£6,980) are not only stunning but are really pushing the envelope of men’s luxury style. Also using strikingly coloured reptile is Cartier, whose Cabochon de Cartier cardholder (from £265) comes in a range of sizes and skins, including Nile crocodile; its cardholder in burgundy red is an understated classic.

Woven and constructed techniques are being developed by others, such as Marni, which produces simple products using two-tone lattice work. Its caramel and cappuccino coloured iPad (£283) and iPhone (£117) cases are a chic fusion of technology and artfulness. Maison Martin Margiela’s finely woven wallets (from £160) are covetable items too, bridging luxury and niche artisan craftsmanship.

Alongside its Saffiano cross-hatched products, Prada introduces a range of woven orange and navy leather pieces (from £100), chiming with its leftfield design ethos. Even more “on brand” are its new key fobs (£100). Those who have children might be aware of the craze for making “Scoubidous”. These are plaited, round plastic straws that make colourful key fobs. In a witty interpretation of the fad, Prada has made leather fobs in four two-tone colourways. They are surprisingly large and have such a sensuous quality when held in the hand that you don’t want to put them down. Fob connoisseurs will note the essential quick-release clasp, which allows an instant key edit. Prada’s key fob demonstrates how frequently used small leather luxuries can give pleasure simply because they are so tactile.