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Factory visit: Tanner Krolle

21 March 2011


Of course, this isn’t exactly Tanner Krolle‘s factory. The original TK operation was on Mildmay Avenue in Islington, but was sold to Dunhill in the nineties and then knocked down. Dunhill moved its operations to Walthamstow (see previous Permanent Style factory visit). Robert Simpson, a member of the Krolle family, left the company a few years after it was bought by Chanel (1992). He set up this factory in Shoreditch, making leather goods under his own label and for a bunch of private labels (including several of our shoemaking friends). Since Chanel sold Tanner Krolle in 2003, all its luggage has been made here (more delicate items like jewellery boxes are made in Italy). This is factory Robert is showing us round today.


Traditionally Tanner Krolle was a bespoke luggage maker, with a little private-label work for Harrod’s and others. It was Chanel in 1997 that launched TK as a retail brand, with a full range of attachés, luggage and suitcases. That has continued under the ownership of Guy Salter, Rupert Hambro and partners, but the shop on Burlington Gardens was closed and the new retail presence has just opened in Shepherd’s Market. A small but pretty shopfront, it will have a bespoke lounge upstairs and promises craftsmen working in the window come summer.

Factories are rarely pretty, and Tanner Krolle is no exception. An industrial elevator leads to the walkway of a council block, looking out over the flat roofs upon which its neighbours have dumped sofas and street signs. Inside things are hardly polished, but there is the reassuring sight of paper patterns and rolls and rolls of leather.


It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that my attention was instantly drawn to old pieces being refurbished, rather than new pieces. Like the rawhide suitcase you can see here, belonging to an American customer. The leather exterior and all its stitching are still intact. But it has clearly been left in a damp place and not opened for a while, because the interior has all rotted through. It will be relined in a cream cotton drill.

This is not a long job, as the pieces are all glued rather than stitched. But it requires considerable skill to get all the pieces correct – one of the challenges with working in bespoke is that no two pieces are the same dimensions. You can see this in the wallet design sketched out below. Customers often send in pencil sketches showing how their perfect wallet would be arranged, or they send in a similar version but ask for different numbers of pockets.


The hand sewing of luggage and attachés requires the same lock stitch as used to sew on a shoe’s welt, or make saddlery, or construct a bridle leather belt. The leather is thicker and the corners sharper than in shoemaking, however.


Other pieces shown here include an ancient crocodile attaché (top) with, unusually, four studs on the back rather than the bottom. Clearly this piece was expected to sit open for long periods. I’m also a fan of the round lock on the briefcase pictured below, which has been upgraded into a sophisticated combination lock on the new Tanner Krolle pieces.


Photography: Andy Barnham