When I think of British luxury, one of the first things that comes to mind is our great history of making beautifully designed cars,’ says Isabel Ettedgui, the CEO of Connolly. ‘Apart from Savile Row, where do you find historic British luxury design? At Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Aston Martin. And the legacy of that luxury is still here today – think of the last James Bond film and the role played by the Aston Martin DB5.’
Ettedgui knows a thing or two about that car, which became such a feature of the opening of No Time to Die, as Connolly crafted the leather upholstery for it (as it did for the original DB5 in 1964’s Goldfinger) – in fact, she talks fondly of sitting in it and playing with all the “toys”. But Connolly also upholstered the first-ever Rolls-Royce, over a century ago, and has a history of leather artisanship that goes way back, to 1878, when it was a small British family business carrying out shoe repairs and making coach hoods.
‘Connolly developed along with the nascent car industry,’ explains Ettedgui. ‘At that time the chassis were made in one place and coachbuilders made the interiors in another. The coaching hood translated into the car seat, so Connolly started making them. As the 20th century progressed, Connolly provided leather for so many amazing projects – for the Queen Mary liner, Spitfires and the Houses of Parliament, as well as cars and trains and planes.’
Today, Connolly leather is still used by car makers; the company supplies numerous British marques for private orders. But the luxury spirit that Ettedgui identifies as being indelibly connected to the famous automotive names has been translated into a range of products that, while still inspired by life on the road, are also well-suited to life away from it.
And as if to express how far from the garage and tarmac she has come, Ettedgui indicates the room we are sitting in on the first floor of Connolly’s historic Mayfair townhouse. This is a gallery space, which hosts exhibitions. Meanwhile, the other rooms of the building house the Connolly clothing and accessories collections. ‘In the early ’90s I felt there was so much potential beyond car leather, so I asked designer Ross Lovegrove to develop a range of leather goods, and I added cashmere sweaters,’ says Ettedgui. ‘There’s something about leather and cashmere that evokes that very romantic notion of driving in the ’50s and ’60s.’
It is this spirit of travelling in style and comfort that lies at the heart of Connolly. Leather is still core to the offer – great leather grip bags, jackets and gloves, and cute special items, such as a tool kit in a leather case, and a martini cocktail set, also in a leather carry case, both designed by Sebastian Conran – but there is now so much more to flesh out your wardrobe.
And though inspired by the past, the designs are decidedly contemporary, perfectly combining style with function: a cashmere driving sweater has a zip up the side of the neck, to allow for head movement when at the wheel; a suede driving boot is like a desert boot with an unreinforced sole to allow for sensitivity when you press on a pedal; a duffle bag in suede, nubuck or leather folds completely flat when not in use; rare Cervelt wool from red deer makes the ultimate sporty sweater as it won’t pill; while wide-legged trousers are both comfortable and elegant.
So, while Connolly can still enhance your car interior, it can also kit you out from head to toe in style. You won’t run in to too many people dressed like you either: ‘It’s all about small quantities of product made from ethically sourced materials,’ explains Ettedgui. Unless you opt for the Giubbino jacket as worn by Mr Craig in a certain blockbuster, which has proved to be a best-seller. It turns out it wasn’t just the seats of the DB5 that received the Connolly treatment in No Time to Die.