Faultless leather16 June 2003
Production for the spring/summer 2003 season was close to ending when Leather International visited the Loewe assembly lines in the Northern suburbs of Barcelona. Most of the company's top brass had headed north from Loewe headquarters in Madrid and Barcelona for the pret-a-porter fashion shows in Paris. Loewe are probably Spain's most famous homegrown luxury leather brand. Their product lines include men's and ladies' leather footwear, handbags, belts, garments, jewellery and travelware. The factory in Barcelona produces 14,000 garments each year from a range of over 200 samples in a range of leathers. In production at any single time Loewe have approximately ten 'family' styles for men and women and each 'family' has more or less seven different colours. For example, a typical man's or woman's leather jacket from Loewe will use up to twelve grade one sheepskins although it has been very occasionally known for Loewe to use a staggering 30-35 skins to achieve a desired look. Once graded and colour matched the selected skins are rolled together and taken to be cut by hand or machine and then sewn. When choosing suitable garment leather for their range Loewe, who have been part of the LVMH Group since 1994, specify three main criteria. 1. A clean grain. 2. A good touch and 3. Good physical properties. 'The main characteristic of a Loewe garment is a leather with a very fine and smooth touch', says Arquimedes Cubelos Torrecillas, production manager, Loewe Barcelona. 'We insist that our suppliers provide us with the best grade one skins which have a perfect surface cleanliness and grain fibre quality.' On arrival from the tannery each skin is inspected thoroughly and the defects highlighted so that they can be avoided or hidden in manufacture. Loewe employ a team of highly experienced graders to pick out the skins which are suitable for each garment type. It is essential at this point that the colours of each skin chosen match so the finished item looks uniform. 'We only have a few leather suppliers and as long as they continue to provide us with the correct grade and quality leather Loewe requires we will continue to them', says Cubelos. 'We tell the tanner what kind of material we require and usually our suppliers will provide the leather we want with our specifications.' Loewe use tanners from Spain and two of their major suppliers include Colomer y Munmany and Inpelsa. They prefer to source from domestic companies for a number of reasons. Loewe believe that the unique qualities of Spanish goat and sheepskins provide them with a finer and smoother grain than raw materials from other regions of the world. Secondly, they have a very close relationship with their main suppliers, which go back many years. They also source finished bovine side leather for the leathergoods and belting lines. During the hand or machine cutting operation, each panel of a garment is chosen using an in-house grading system. On the finished item the lapels and front chest panels are graded 0 using the best leather. Grade 1 is used around the lower and rear panels and grades 2 and 3 are chosen for those areas around the buttons and on the inside hem where it is less visible. The result is a soft, smooth faultless leather garment. Background The company were founded in Madrid in 1850 and have a series of own branded boutiques located throughout the major cities of Spain and across the rest of the world. The domestic market represents 50% of the company's sales and by far their largest export market for leather garments is Japan. Close to 50% of their production is exported directly to Japan. Loewe also offer a unique bespoke service to Japanese and Spanish customers. Fittings are taken in Loewe outlets in Japan and the measurements and garment style are sent to Spain for manufacture. The finished garment is then shipped back to Japan. A typical bespoke item will take 2-3 months to produce. The factory in Barcelona employs 200 people across the three production lines. At full capacity the factory produces around 200 bags, 1,200 belts and a variable number of leather garments daily. Most of the handbags, luggage and footwear are produced at the Loewe factory in Madrid although Louis Vuitton bags were being manufactured during the visit. The third line at the factory is the smaller but more exclusive pret-a-porter range. This range follows the two annual fashion seasons and requires the most amounts of design, quality, innovation and manufacturing accuracy. 'For a company like Loewe the pret-a-porter range is the most important and the most difficult range to produce', concluded Arquimedes Cubelos Torrecillas. 'But it is essential that we remain at the forefront of fashion. Leather is an integral part of our fashion business.'