Much of the marketing of leather is based on image. So long as the top designers and brand names continue to regard leather as a luxury item then, hopefully, the lower end of the market will be able to sell leather clothing and accessories because the high street always follows with their own economic versions.

If the industry only had the volume market to cater for, the perception of the public towards leather would be downgraded and the industry would have a hard time as a result.

It is good to learn, then, that Chanel, top couture house and perfumery, have relaunched a leather inspired fragrance. In fact, they have launched a unique collection of classic fragrances. As the first couturier to create fragrances bearing her name, Mademoiselle Chanel had a rare talent for capturing the essence of the times. In the 1920s, insipid, ‘heavy’ single-flower fragrances were still the trend. As pioneers in abstraction and the use of aldehydes, Chanel introduced N°5 which is still a top favourite today. There were also other fragrances: N°22, Bois des Iles, Cuir de Russie and Gardénia. Into every one – as with all of her creations – Mademoiselle Chanel breathed her life and desires.

Cuir de Russie was created in 1927 and, according to Chanel, it evoked ‘the spirit and splendour of a wild yet elegant world. Through long musky, smoky notes comes the Imperial guard, with his weather-beaten boots softened by birch bark. Leather and wood scents blend with those of cut hay and wafts of blond tobacco.’ The composition was softened with ‘Oriental jasmine and this olfactory theme – traditionally popular with men – appealed to garçonnes, with their fondness for the charm of ambiguity. Chanel made a talent of audacity, no matter who wore her Cuir – since it had its own special style.’

We tried to obtain a photograph of the bottle but were told that Chanel did not deal with the trade press. Apparently they are very sensitive about who may receive photographic images.

Fashion drives the international leather industry. Tanners wishing to compete in the globalised market must differentiate their product. Thus they are focusing more and more on fashion and becoming increasingly creative in their design.

But fashion doesn’t just drive purchases of garments, footwear and leathergoods; areas such as home furnishings, stationery etc, are also becoming increasingly important.

When it comes to anticipating fashion trends, many apparel makers rely on the intuition of a charismatic designer such as Ralph Lauren but Coach, makers of classy women’s bags, actually ask their customers. Each year, Coach interviews more than 60,000 of their customers through internet questionnaires, phone surveys, and face-to-face encounters with shoppers at the 300 stores. Such intense market research has helped Coach executives spot trends well before the herd.

This in turn has helped them to extend the brand far beyond the leather bags that have traditionally been their trademark and into watches, accessories and clothing. After hearing customers

complain that they couldn’t find decent carry-on luggage for weekend getaways, for example, the company in July, 2006, launched their ‘Signature Stripe’ travel bags in July 2006. This new line accounted for 15% of Coach’s sales of full-priced retail

merchandise during its first month.

Coach sales have grown an average of 29% over each of the past three years, fuelling a strong 63% average return on invested capital during the same period. This earned Coach the No 2 spot in this year’s Business Week 50, the 11th annual ranking of the best-performing companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index.

‘This research gives us a real competitive advantage’, acknowledged Coach chief executive Lew Frankfort. ‘The only way for us to grow on a sustained basis was if we evolved as our consumers evolved.’