As we introduce the Capra Collection, crafted from goat leather, popular in the 1930s, we take a look at Ettinger’s first half century.

It was 1934 when Gerry Ettinger came to Britain and established G. Ettinger Ltd. Thanks to Gerry’s talent for languages, his love of travel and his excellent business brain (honed at the family tailoring company), Ettinger has since grown into the reputable British brand it is today.

Gerry Ettinger in January 1934

Back in the 1930s, gentlemen’s style was, of course, a more formal affair and Gerry was always beautifully turnedout. He wore a suit, white shirt, a tie and was never without his handmade umbrella, with his name engraved in brass around the handle.

Gerry Ettinger in 1939

The dashing Gerry set up G. Ettinger’s first showroom on Vigo Street, just off London’s Regent Street in 1934, where he displayed and sold a range of leather goods to the likes of Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Asprey. These early wares hailed from a German manufacturer called Herion, based in the jewellery and leather goods capital of Germany, Pforzhein.

Ettinger Showroom in Vigo Street

Back in the 30s, many more everyday items were made out of leather than are today. G. Ettinger Ltd. sold everything from: correspondence cases, date stamps and desk tidies, to folding photo frames, wet packs (sponge bags), bins and umbrella stands, in addition to the more-predictable wallets and luggage. Cheap materials, such as plastic, were not widely available back then and disposable consumer culture had yet to arrive on the scene. Items were often more expensive than they are today, but they lasted a lifetime.

The 30s was a golden era for travel and the leather luggage and accessories that went with it. Porters carefully carried beautiful, but weighty, cases for well-heeled travellers on and off the trains running across Europe. And, of course, the rising popularity of the motorcar, allowed travellers to easily carry their beautiful leather bags and cases with them. Even on the early flights, luggage was treated with respect; it would never arrive at your destination covered in stickers or scratched or dented, as is often the case today.

Wallets and purses were more or less the same in the 1930s as they are today, but consumers had different requirements. For example, wallets and purses didn’t have credit card slots because credit cards didn’t exist and people carried cash instead.  Wallets were wider, with each fold or tab shaped for the ease of storing cash and coin.

Another crucial difference was the leather used: pigskin and goat leathers were popular at the time, but in 2018 fewer tanneries produce high quality pig and goat leather. Fortunately, the tannery Gerry used back in the 50s is still producing exceptional goat leather, and we are sourcing the leather for our Capra Collection from this very same outfit in South West France.

The 1930s and 40s were difficult times in Europe, as Adolf Hitler came to power in Ettinger’s native Germany and the Second World War took its toll. The majority of businesses, including Ettinger, ceased trading. And it wasn’t until a chance encounter on Bond Street in 1947, that G. Ettinger Ltd. really surged back into action.

Gerry and Elizabeth Ettinger, Dover Summer 1949

“Ettinger, what are you doing here?” called out a familiar voice from behind Gerry Ettinger. It was Mr. Asprey, who Gerry had supplied with leather goods before the war. The two began trading again and business resumed for Ettinger.

The post-war decades were also a golden era for travel, with many more heading abroad than ever before, particularly in the 1950s, when rationing finally ended and normality returned. This was a great opportunity for Gerry, as he spoke a grand total of five European languages: English, German, French, Spanish and Italian fluently, he began acting as a consultant for London buyers across Europe. Gerry travelled the continent with the likes of Mappin and Webb, Harrods and Fortnum & Mason, helping them source quality products at fair prices. And all of this while his own business was quietly building.