Describing herself as a “design generalist”, Leonie Branston founded accessories label Ferian (from an Old English word meaning “carry”) after spending 20 years in the fashion industry, including 12 years at Margaret Howell – where she continues to act as a womenswear design consultant – together with stints at Alexander McQueen and Calvin Klein in New York. “I feel unconstrained by product categories,” she says, of her move into accessories, “though my approach and aesthetic remain constant.” Unable to find the right handbag – one that was understated, timeless and preferably made in the UK – Branston saw an opportunity to create her own.
Since launching the label in 2017, her approach has been one of style by stealth over ostentation. Each bag is named after an English seaside town or port: Selsey (£825) is a large leather shoulder bag with a continuous strap (all Ferian straps and handles are made from English bridle leather); Rye (£745) is a chic, convertible shoulder bag that transforms into an evening clutch; and Portland (£895) is a smart work tote. Animal hides imported from Europe are vegetable tanned, dyed and treated with natural oils and wax before being sent to a small factory in the West Midlands to be cut and stitched by skilled leather workers, known as lorniers.
Branston designs every element herself, “from sketching and making the pattern to roughly modelling the hardware out of clay” and is committed to the application of traditional skills. Having a third-generation equestrian leather finisher in her address book proved beneficial; and Branston also acknowledges the lasting influence of Margaret Howell. “I appreciate that philosophy of purposeful, timeless design that doesn’t eclipse the style of the wearer. Margaret has never deviated from her vision or compromised on quality.”
Finding metalworkers who could produce locks and buckles in unlacquered brass was not quite as straightforward. It took more than three years to uncover a specialist in the ancient process of “lost wax casting” who could match Branston’s exacting standards, such that “the hardware be handcrafted to the same standard as jewellery”.
With this in mind, it was only a matter of time before Branston established her own jewellery collection, sold at Matchesfashion.com. “When I saw the skill of my casters, it was an obvious opportunity,” she says. “It’s also interesting to work on an intricate scale and learn new processes.” As with her handbags, Branston is keen to incorporate long-established expertise: “One of my collections revives vintage Wedgwood Jasperware cameos [from £625 for a ceramic and gold ring], for which I’ve designed modern settings. Josiah Wedgwood was an extraordinary innovator and I love reframing these classics.”