Innovating in design & reinventing himself.
For those who work with craft and design, it’s common to hear about vocation, but Bill Amberg is a special case.
Born in Northampton, a shoe-producing region of England, he grew up with the deadstock leather his mom brought for him, so crafting became his game, and he hasn't had enough of playing for over 30 years.
Reusing leather made multitasker Amberg understand the value of the material since he was a boy. If you go to Bill Amberg Studio in London, you will notice they really work with that. After all, sustainability is more than an initiative, it’s needful.
“We make boards from it, and then we make things like tables made of leather. That's just compressed pieces of leather, all compressed together. It's very, very beautiful.”
For Amberg, working like that is a matter of respect — it’s necessary to understand the importance of leather for the environment and never waste it. He calls attention to the infinite possibilities of this material, so why discard it if you can create something new?
As a designer, Amberg is also full of possibilities and has experimented with different areas, from architecture to fashion. The iconic Rocket Bag, for example, was created by him in the '90s, and today it's part of the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
In an apartment in Olympia, London, they covered the floor with tanned shoulder leather, a technique that he has mastered since the '80s. In Radlett, Hertfordshire, leather was used on some stairs to contrast with the glass and concrete of the place. Do you think it ended there?
Come on, we're talking about Bill Amberg! In recent projects, he used leather on the walls of 80 Charlotte St. and on the roof of 22 Bishopgate. His work is the definition of timeless and intense. ⏳
Now, let's let the authority speak for himself. For true sustainable design and life lessons, scroll, read, and tap play for the full exclusive chat.
In the 30 years of the studio, you've produced bespoke leather designs that have remained timeless across industries from furniture to saddlery ― what principles of your creative process allow for success across different applications?
I think it's because I'm just very naturally curious, I'm inquisitive, and I like music and culture, and so many different aspects of what's going on around the world. And that automatically kind of throws different ideas around different subjects.
You have worked with leather since a very young age and the studio has a mission to explore all the material possibilities of leather ― why do you choose to work so exclusively with this material?
It's quite interesting that leather touches so many different areas of our lives.
And you can usually find a way of weaving this beautiful, sustainable material into all of these cultural activities that are going on,
into these different subjects, be it fashion, home, or architecture.
There are so many things going on, and it's relevant to a lot of those things. It's an extraordinary material and there are lots of variety and techniques attached to it. So all of these things mean that you can basically do anything you'd like with it.
The studio has produced bespoke elements for designers & architects alike, like your Kolho collab with both furniture company Made by Choice and Matthew Day Jackson. How did you go about creating the leather for this project?
I think the best collaborations are always those where both parties fully respect everybody else's skills. That means that you're constantly building, and that's really the best thing that can happen. It's not just one person saying, "it has to be like this, please, do it for me." It's always just a conversation, and in the conversation, things start to be built.
With that one, we sent Matthew, who was really interested in the printed leather we had developed. Because I've seen and used a lot of printed leather, but I've never liked it, it's always struck me as being like plastic or a painted finish. And it struck me that nobody had really thought about the substrate, the actual leather, the tannage of the leather that the print was being applied on. So we approached a tannery about developing a leather tannage to accept digital dye. And that was a very interesting process that took us about 18 months.
What does it mean to be born into leather?
I loved designing and making things when I was a boy. And my parents were great at really encouraging me to design and make things. I think they knew I was never going to follow a traditional path. It was about finding something that would excite me and keep me interested as a young man. But we were in a town called Northampton, in England. Northampton is a shoe town, so there was a lot of leather in the town, there were a lot of leather factories. My mother used to bring home bags of bits of leather just for me to play with. I got kind of into it, as a material. I guess that's one of the things that really gets you going.
As you said, your mom gave you scraps of leather and if you think about it, that’s a very sustainable approach to learning. Do you still have that sustainable side to your work? Is that a goal for the studio?
I think leather is a very precious material.
It's a by-product of another industry, and we're lucky to have it and to use it. We are blessed to be associated with it.
When you think that it came from a live animal, I think you have to really, truly respect that. You have to give back the love, it's really important, and you can't waste it. It's just terrible to waste it, you can't throw it in the bin, you have to find a way of using every single bit of it.
If you come to my studio, you'll see that we keep everything, really. And then we've developed different ways of using it. In fact, we made it downstairs, here in the studio, I'm upstairs in the showroom, but we have a machine that we made to compress leather.
We make boards from it, and then we make things like this table made of leather. That's just compressed pieces of leather, all compressed together. It's very, very beautiful and that's how we use up all our scrap. We make a lot of stuff like that, using bits of leather. We get old leather and turn it into a new material.
You don't talk about leather and craftwork without mentioning Bill Amberg, and now you know why.
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