Bags of style: Ettinger

British leather goods specialist Ettinger has produced handcrafted accessories that balance style and function since the 1930s

Style 9 Jun 2022

The Ettinger Burlington briefcase, £1,235, is a traditional briefcase for modern life

The Ettinger Burlington briefcase, £1,235, is a traditional briefcase for modern life

The adage may claim that shoes are the ultimate clue to a person’s character, but you can also tell a lot about someone from their bag. A designer one may get a knowing nod of approval from the fashion savvy, but a well-crafted and timeless bag alludes to a person with impeccable taste.

A plush leather bag bearing the Ettinger name is one such piece. Chairman and CEO Robert Ettinger acknowledges that his company’s products are not “high fashion”. ‘We don’t have spring/summer or winter collections, but our things last, they don’t date, and we try to navigate that balance between style and substance,’ he says.

Ettinger was founded in 1934 by Gerry Ettinger, an agent who supplied leather goods to high-end department stores. Having stayed at the forefront of his company into his 90s, in 1995 Gerry passed on the torch to his eldest son, Robert, who expanded the company on an international scale. Like his entrepreneurial father before him, Robert is a keen traveller and remains hands-on and passionate about maintaining the exacting standards of the family business.

Ettinger products – from small leather goods such as key fobs to more decadent jewellery rolls and bespoke attachés – are still handcrafted in the UK. The factory is based in Walsall, renowned for its traditional leather craft. Around 85 per cent of the manufacturing is done by hand, with a number of Ettinger employees having started at the factory as teenagers.

‘Craftsmanship is integral to Ettinger; our products can’t come out of a machine,’ Robert says. ‘It takes up to five years to train our craftspeople so that they can make to the quality we want, and to the speed as well. More and more things are being automated in the world, but they’ve never been able to automate leather manufacturing. It’s one of the reasons why a lot of the lower-end manufacturing of leather goods has moved to the Far East. But we have always been at the very top end, and that’s allowed us to keep making in the UK, which is a great thing for the craft and the skills to be handed on to generations.’

While Ettinger products aren’t subject to trends or seasonal releases, there’s a steady flow of new innovations. Anything new is always tested for a minimum of six months to ensure that it both looks the part and performs beautifully.

‘You can’t reinvent the wheel,’ explains Robert. ‘Bags have got to hold product; they’ve got to have a certain amount of pockets where you can put smaller objects such as your phone, wallet, purse and keys. They need to be as light as possible, or, if it’s a cabin-type holdall, it needs to be the right size to fit into the overhead lockers.’

Robert personally tests all Ettinger bags – whether on a weekend break with the elegant canvas and leather Hurlingham overnight bag, or commuting with the plush Burlington briefcase, a piece inspired by traditional attachés, made for modern life. And with trips and in-person meetings now back on the agenda, there’s all the more reason to invest in a travel companion that is beautiful, functional and designed to last.