More about The London Leatherman

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  • as told by Dave Carroll

‘’Around 1972/73 my Mum was working for a clothing factory in Battersea, (London) there was a few clothing factories (in the area) and they did contract work for the British Army, for example making British Army combat trousers.

Well, these factories all closed down because of the recession in the 70s and the seamstresses, which a lot of the woman in our area were, had no work. However, there was this very weird shop on Queenstown Road, around the corner from where we lived. We’d always seen stuff in the window and because we were just kids, we couldn’t understand it. Actually, pretty much no one in the area could understand it or why it was even there. Battersea was very working class, dull, with nothing interesting for people to visit, there wasn’t even a tube line. It was a very strange place for it to be in. From the outside it looked like a sauna with slatted woodwork and a very small glass window, which had in it studded belts, studded wrist bands and I remember a leather mask which completely and utterly freaked everyone out and everyone’s attitude was ‘what the fuck is this shop about?’. The shop was called The London Leatherman.

The guy who owned the shop, (his name was) Ken, it seemed was making a lot of money and selling a lot of stuff. We couldn’t understand what he would be selling and as I was getting older I came to understand it was a gay shop, but still not knowing what gay was. So….. anyway, the woman in the area who were now in need of work started working for him. This included my Mum, who went around the corner to see him and started working for him. Basically he would pay per piece and all my Mum had to do was sew leather jock straps, which she did on a machine she set up in our dining room. It was only until recently we had rolls and rolls of elastic in a cupboard left over for making these jock straps.

Basically, the pieces for the jock straps were already cut out and all my Mum had to do was sew them together. There was piles and piles of red ones and black ones, with The London Leatherman label sewn in. They really were ‘hand-made in London’ items and all the woman in the area who started working for him, found it hilarious. I remember my Nan putting one on her head, with the kids running around laughing, you know just playing and my Mum on the machine making these jock straps.

The jock straps were like elastic around the back, open at the back, with these leather pouches, which were pouches for the balls and the cock to come out of the top. It was pretty full on for the 1970s. But what he was selling to was the gay liberation, which had a really big leather scene in America, in particular San Francisco. A lot of it was being exported and there would be lorries turn up every few weeks and filled with all his leather goods to be shipped off. Of course, at first I didn’t know all of this, I was just a kid, but in later years when I got to know Ken he would tell me about the Coleherne Arms in Earls Court which had a leather scene back then, but all they could get was motorcycle stuff, which was kind of baggy and no one could get the right looking stuff, I imagine the inspiration being Tom Of Finland. They all wanted a fitted leather look and he was the only one who could (and would) make it. He literally started by trial and error, making for himself, wearing it out to the Coleherne and on his bike, he had a big BMW RS900 motorcycle, and that’s where his business came from. He played a very poignant role in the gay leather scene.

My mother continued doing bits and pieces of work for him, when all of a sudden the punk thing started and I started noticing from looking at all the music papers and everything going on that the punks were wearing the stuff I’d seen and knew it must’ve come from Ken’s shop.

We all used to hang around on street corners back then, and I was getting into punk. There was this kid who hung around with us who was a Teddy-Boy and he had a studded wrist band. I thought, that’s what the punks wear, ‘punk rockers’ is what they were called then, punks wear stuff like that. He said ‘I got it from that shop, you know that weird shop around the corner’. So, I did a deal with him or something, I think I had a tie, a Teddy-Boy boot lace tie and I swapped it with him for his wrist band. Once I put that wrist band on, and I had a Sex Pistols t-shirt, a really naff one, a capped sleeved one, I was a punk rocker. I was just 12 going on 13, I had really come of age when all of a sudden I was wearing that stuff. I remember straight away going to get a pair of jeans, they were flared, I had them drain piped, taken in, I went and bought a pair of Teddy-Boy creepers and I had all my hair cropped off. That was it, as easy as that everything changed in my life, I was a punk. But, I hadn’t even heard the music properly, I just liked the look. That would’ve been early 1978. I look back and I was very young.

In 1978 my Mum was still doing some work for The London Leatherman and she wanted me to drop some finished items off to his shop. But, I really didn’t want to, I didn’t want to go into his shop. She said ‘Just drop the bag off to him, he’ll give you an envelope with money in it and bring it back’. I can’t emphasize enough how much I didn’t want to go around there, it terrified me, it was a terrifying place. But, Ken was perfectly nice, he was a very nice guy. So, I went round there, he knew who I was. I dropped off the bag and he gave me the envelope and he said ‘you like all the punk stuff don’t you?’

And I said ‘Yeah, yeah I do’.

‘Well don’t ever buy it from that bastard’. He was referring to Malcolm McLaren the manager of the Sex Pistols and at that time had the shop Seditionaries with his partner Vivienne Westwood. He said ‘Do you want one of these and you can have some of those….’ I got studded belts and cuffs off him and I got these shiny t-shirts a red one, a navy blue one and a black one. He just gave them to me. They were capped sleeved, in a PVC like fabric which I later saw that the shop SEX sold them. The London Leatherman sold them with his labels in, he also sold them to Malcolm McLaren and put the SEX labels in. You can see the Banshees (Siouxsie and the Banshees) wearing them, they really were very early punk rock clothing.

As time moved on I really wanted a pair of leather trousers. I went and got a pair from Lewis Leathers. But, they were motorcycle jeans, they weren’t what I was looking for. I wanted jeans I’d seen the Sex Pistols wearing and what Generation X and bands like that were wearing. They were tight leather jeans with rivets, chrome rivets and they were a specific thing. So, much later in 1980/81 (I was 16) I went around to The London Leatherman and asked Ken. He said ‘I’ll make you a pair, it’ll cost you this much’. I’d just started working, so I had some money and he made me a pair with a belt. When you used to get leather trousers made by him, he’d make them with a matching studded belt.

The trousers had no lining in them, so they could be just tight enough, like a second skin. Essentially London Leatherman made fetish wear, which I didn’t understand back then, I just thought it looked good. I wanted to look like Johnny Rotten (of the Sex Pistols), not a Tom of Finland drawing! It was fetish wear that became fashionable. These were the exact trousers the Sex Pistols were wearing, so I had my pair made by Ken and they were absolutely brilliant leather trousers. They looked fantastic with creepers, boots, anything.

I also got made by him a leather jacket. It was a single zip up the front jacket, with tassels, like a proper rockers jacket. Signature to his style it had popper studs on the cuffs. It was a great leather jacket.

He also sold great big knitted, chunky cardigans and jumpers, which I thought was odd. A friend of Kens used to knit them and so you could order a handmade woollen, chunky knit by The London Leatherman too. They were beautifully made, incredible.

Back when The London Leatherman was selling leather items to Malcolm McClaren for his shop SEX, on the Kings Road, he got wrapped up in the scandal related to the leather mask that the Cambridge rapist wore (1975). Both shops were raided by the police, because they were trying to work out the customers who had bought them. Ken had to say who bought the masks. That’s where the inspiration for the Cambridge Rapist t-shirts sold at Seditionaries came from. Previous to the scandal SEX sold a t-shirt with just the leather mask printed on, no writing.

But, The London Leatherman was constantly being raided. I’m sure because the police were homophobic in the 1970s. But, police just harassed people then, especially punks and people shopping at Seditionaries.’’