There’s something satisfying about specialist craft at the highest level taking place in its traditional or original location. In France, Seraphin – one of the world’s finest makers of leather jackets – is located on the Quai de Valmy in Paris, surrounded by warehouses that have been the home of leather tanneries and manufacturers since the 18th century. They are tall, crowding the canal and almost leaning over it. The occasional pedestrian bridges are high and arched, built to let through the tall steamboats of the time.
Seraphin owns three of these ateliers, with the offices, storage spaces and showroom located in one on the west side of the canal. A large gate leads to a small door, up a steep flight of steps and onto a gallery, where one can see leather-cutting going on and linings being organised below.
The contrast between the rough exterior and luxury of the inner-sanctum showroom is marked. Inside, on two long rails, are jackets and coats made from the world’s finest leather, suede and cashmere. The incredibly thin “gloving” leather that Seraphin is known for makes up most of the collection, but there is also a scattering of alligator and reversible cashmere bombers with waterproof linings.
“We’ve always been keen to combine the twin needs of luxury and practicality,” says Seraphin founder Henri-George Zaks. “Some of our leathers, for example, are soaked in a mixture that makes it water-resistant. But they need to dry out for two weeks afterwards; that’s the only way to retain the character of the skin. Some other companies spray the leather, which is quicker, but sacrifices the feel of it.”
Seraphin makes leather pieces for other luxury brands as well as under its own label, and has long been keen to keep a low profile. “We don’t ever want to be too big, to lose control of how we are presented,” says Zaks. And being primarily a manufacturer is a good way to achieve that while bringing in enough funds to keep the factory going.
For autumn/winter 2016, Seraphin’s retailers are offering a broader range of pieces than usual. At Colette in Paris, for example, there is a reversible blouson that can be turned inside out to expose the waterproof lining (€1,875, first picture) and a downfilled gilet with attachable suede sleeves (€2,750, second picture), alongside more standard pieces such as blousons in lightweight leather (€2,125, third picture). Zaks’ passion for motorcycles also means some short, windproof leathers make it into the collection every season.
As we talk, with Zaks standing in front of a long window showing the choppy waters of the canal, he demonstrates a double-layered leather jacket – effectively a regular jacket with the front half of a gilet stitched on top. It’s made of buttersoft black shearling but looks more than up to the task of striding along that canal, buffeted by the Parisian wind.