Stahl’s high level of expertise in all aspects of leather fashion has recently been enhanced by opening a Design Studio in Milan, Italy. Here a fashion team not only dreams but also transforms these conceptual ideas into both commercial and avant-garde products that are used in high quality leather articles.

When creative minds develop new and original ideas, Stahl technicians have the communications network and the expertise to ensure that novel leather articles are prepared and made ready for its customers in a way that is tailored to their individual needs. A sound investment needs a new idea to be followed up and transformed into a profitable, winning conclusion. In this highly competitive environment simply continuing with the same old ideas and modifying them only slightly to follow fashion is not the road to success, often resulting in being competitive solely on price.

The leather industry needs support in this important area if it is to maintain quality and prestige to differentiate it from its synthetic imitators. Stahl technicians, guided by the fashion team and the assets of the Design Studio are armed with products, leather swatches, colour cards and trend books. They also have the training necessary for supporting their customers in all fields of leather production.

The Stahl Design Studio

The situation may be likened to driving a car. Do you use your well-trusted maps? Or do you opt for the new Sat-Nav? Either decision will provide you with a route. But you can still take a wrong turning!

The same can be said of following up a dream idea. Stahl say that following your own instincts is the traditional route to success. Following the ideas and the ways of creating new leathers from those suggested by Stahl’s new Design Studio is a new way of using the experience of others to guide your business to success.

How does the Design Studio team work? There are three stages:

Dreaming the idea: This is the function of the Milan Design Studio led by Rini van Vonderen, who is the fashion consultant exclusive to Stahl. There is no secret in the idea that fashion tends to go round and round. Aspects of yesterday’s fashion may be resurrected today but most certainly with a new flourish.

Researching the picture archives is nearly always the starting point. The Studio holds a huge collection of old photographs, fashion magazines and catalogues. Attending the major European fashion fairs is an essential and valuable way of collecting ideas through leather cuttings, magazines and much more.

Make a suggestion and the Stahl fashion team will almost certainly know where to put their hands on pictures of similar ideas from the past. They are not only looking for pictures of leather, they are also researching pictures of architectural design and interiors, and pictures that provide ideas for colours and surfaces that are often drawn from nature.

Fashion items and memorabilia are always being up-dated and related to Stahl. Study these archives and the emotions start to kick in. Start taking into account today’s attitudes while also thinking three or four years up the road for the succinct central theme. The key directions are always there when the fashion team begins to search.

In the past, leather was a fashion in itself. That was fine so long as leather was ‘in fashion’. Today we are seeing leather much more as playing a decorative role in fashion that is used by individuals to stamp their own personality on what they wear, to mark their own creativity in style and to change how they look not just from day to day but possibly from one part of the day to another – in the office in the morning, visiting a customer in the afternoon and going out to dinner in the evening – with no time to change in between other than wearing a different necklace, belt, pair of shoes or boots and handbag.

Examples of change

Look back a generation. Our mothers probably owned a single handbag and it was used solely for its functionality. They only bought a new one when the old one had worn-out. Nowadays, a bag is a fashion item bought to match the owner’s image. Decide the mood, be creative and change the bag to match. Likewise with belts, wallets and footwear.

Until recently boots were unfashionable and worn mainly to keep warm. However, today’s trend setters have three, four or more pairs in different colours and styles so that they can choose a pair to match their mood and surroundings. That for them is fashion.

Researching these and other sources, combining them with ideas of surfaces, colours and silhouettes and end uses of fashion forms the background to the content of Stahl’s new trend books and colour forecast cards.

Translating the dream into reality: At this stage the dream idea takes flight and moves backwards and forwards between the Design Studio and Stahl’s Leather Centre at Waalwijk in the Netherlands. Here John Schoemans and his colleagues have the task of translating the dream into reality. What enters the laboratory as a flight of fancy needs to be brought down to earth to emerge as a commercially viable sample of finished leather.

A picture, a photograph, a description, or even a one-to-one discussion between fashion team members has to be combined with many years of experience in making fashionable leather and the ability to think how these ideas might be reproduced on a piece of leather. The team needs to look at how these ideas can be presented to the marketplace.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the tendency is for leather to be more sporty. In Latin countries leather should be more classic. In hot countries the leather surface should be more glossy and shining. These are some of the thoughts that take place in the Waalwijk laboratory to help translate the Design Studio ideas into a practical leather that can form the basis of a commercial article for the tannery.

Having the vision to show how an idea can be created on leather is one thing. Quite another is being able to meet the challenge to know how it can be done. Are suitable finishing products available within Stahl’s range? Does Stahl have to develop a new product, a task for research and development? Does it make commercial sense to do so?

Here Stahl European and international teams have a watching role to play. They have to answer the questions: ‘Does it make sense?’ ‘Does the fashion scene and marketplace have a viable need for this idea?’ ‘Can we do it technically?’

Of course, there is also a timescale as fashion is a constantly moving target that demands a constant watch on trends. The expert has intuition. If the expert is right, the resulting decision can be truly exciting.

Knowledge and technology transfer: This final stage takes what has become a practical idea one stage further. At this stage, the knowledge and practical skills of making a leather based on an original and exciting idea finally takes shape in the tannery.

From Stahl at Waalwijk and around the world comes the expertise and technology to make the leather. From the tannery comes the knowledge of its own markets and customers and the technology and skills existing within its leather production lines, especially at the retanning, dyeing and finishing stages where the final character of the leather is decided.

How is this combination of fashion expertise and technology communicated between the two? How can the vision become reality? There often needs to be combined experimentation between Stahl and the customer. The tanner knows his leather, its shortcomings and its strengths. He also knows the limitations or opportunities provided by the machinery available in the tannery.

Part of the story at this stage is related to global attitudes. At the moment we are living in a world where politicians in most countries talk of eco-friendliness, of minimising pollution and limiting everyone’s ‘carbon footprint’. So these factors can be additional signals to the way in which the leather is designed and produced, and how it is marketed. Ultimately, success has to be the keynote for survival.

So often, Stahl has talked about leather production as a team effort from tanning to finishing. Once again this theme becomes supreme. Growing an idea, ripening it, turning it into a practical leather finish by means of a practical process and then guiding the tannery in producing a fashionable leather acceptable to its customers requires team spirit throughout the process.

The Stahl business is spread globally in the major leather producing markets, so why was Milan chosen as the location for its Design Studio? After all there are many other cities regarded by the world stage as being fashion centres. The reason is that Italy is the global leather fashion leader and Milan still remains the centre of world fashion with all the major fashion groups being based there. What better reason can there be for basing Stahl’s Design Studio in Milan?