It’s difficult to work out when exactly it began, but over the past three years, more and more people stopped carrying cash. Of course, it really all began back in the 1950s with the introduction of credit cards, but the ever-increasing popularity of online banking, online shopping and, most recently, contactless card payments for small purchases and apps that allow allow us to make instant payments for products and services have left us with few needs for physical currency. Even market stallholders can now accept plastic-card payments using a tablet-connected device. As a result, our wallets look rather different. Smythson – which knows a thing or two about consumer spending on luxury wallets – reports that sales of leather card holders are up 50 per cent year on year. David Aquilina, head of menswear buying at Harvey Nichols in London, says the department store is also seeing a remarkable change in the market. “There has been strong double-digit growth this year in sales for card holders. We are also seeing smaller, more streamlined wallets and a reduction in the use of zippers and coin pockets. Paul Smith’s three-slot navy leather card holder [£120], with his distinctive striped trim, is a good example for the new season.”
“Before we launched our new collection of small leather goods earlier this year, we asked ourselves one question: ‘What does a modern man use?’” says John Harrison, creative director of Gieves & Hawkes. “We found over and over that it was small, slim card holders, both in the UK and in Asia, where most men carry card holders and use WeChat to pay on their phone.” For the new season, Harrison added four different colours of card holder (£95), in navy, red, burgundy and black. Each comes with the Savile Row tailor’s crown insignia embossed on the front, and is hand-finished by artisans in Spain to make the edges thinner. One of the benefits of the new scaled-down alternative to the wallet is that it fits snugly into a suit pocket without ruining the line of the cut.
For accessories designers, this shift in functionality represents an aesthetic opportunity as well as a challenge. At one end of the spectrum sits the likes of Tanner Goods, the Portland leather specialist that brings the materials to the fore. Its Journeyman card holder has four simple and elegantly layered slots and a central pocket, but it’s the leather that makes it such an attractive object: the putty colour of the natural tooled-leather version (£70) has a pleasing, modernist look to it, while the versions (£180) in two different shades of cordovan are richer and more luxe. At the other end of the spectrum, card holders are being used as vehicles for whimsical artwork. Mulberry’s fixation with all things Britannia sees a Union Jack embossed across a midnight-blue four-card holder (£110), while two new card holders (£200) from Prada’s Pradamalia project feature naïve cartoon imagery of a dog and a monkey – the former rendered in a pink line on the product’s saffiano leather, with a matching pink interior, and the latter in red, also with a matching red interior.
The new Icon bi-fold card holders (£95) from Troubadour recall 1960s pop art and Pierre Cardin. They come in offbeat muted retro colours, with black leather squares pierced with a perfect circle. The colours permeate all the way through the leather, so they won’t wear off even with everyday use. “We do this by completely immersing the leather in liquid dye,” explains Troubadour’s Abel Samet. “It’s a process known as barrel-dyeing. As a finishing touch, the Troubadour icon is debossed into the leather and then printed with a rubberised ink. We’ve kept the lines clean and the stitching minimal. These slim wallets mean no more bulging pockets.”
Globe-Trotter is another company exploring new colours and designs. “We now offer a wide range of colour choices,” says director James Fisher. “Originally, it was all just black, but now there’s navy, ivory, graphite and more – and we’ve also come up with small design ideas such as a subtle zip pouch on the back, just in case you do end up with some loose change. I have our card holder [£175] with a pouch from the Propellor range – it’s probably one of my most used items.”
Embracing colour is practical as well as chic – it’s easier to find a bright piece of leather on your desk or in a bag than a dark one. The Origami (£200) and Envelope (£210) card holders from Paris heritage brand Moynat make strong use of colour: one of the Origami designs includes folds of rich-red satin calfskin over orange goatskin, as well as more traditional navy and black, while Envelope, in Taurillon Gex leather, includes a blush holder with a red interior as opposed to the more prosaic blue or tan. If black was the default for wallets, colour is the big attraction for card holders right now. “Our yellow card holder [£100] is especially popular,” says Mats Klingberg, founder of Trunk Clothiers. “Men don’t often get the opportunity for much colour in their accessories, so this is their chance. Bright colours are also easier to find.”
Colour aside, not all customers want to slim down their wallets to a traditional card holder. “Some of our clients explained their frustration at being forced to carry only cards,” says Ben Gorham, founder of Byredo, based in Sweden, where going cashless has been the norm for some time. His Umbrella design (£320) has five slots and a button clasp to keep the whole design tightly bound. “I guess the next question is what will happen to cards as we know them,” he says. “Making payments could mean something very different in the near future.” Perhaps the next innovation could could even be jewellery-based – or a microchip embedded under the skin. Watch this space…