The London Leatherman
The London Leatherman- Made In England
The London Leatherman, also known as Ken, was a self-taught and highly specialised leather craftsmen whose workshop in the 1970s, 80s and 90s was based in Battersea, London, England. He created and made iconic pieces of clothing associated with early punk rock and the very specific styles and looks from which he and his follow leather wearing enthusiasts were looking to achieve in the 1970s. One of these looks, stems from that of Marlon Brando’s character Johnny in the 1953 film The Wild One, who wore a fitted leather jacket with a pair of jeans and in the 1970s, the ‘Brando’ look to be achieved progressing into full leather. This lead to The London Leatherman working to make a leather jean that was fitted enough to look great when out at The Colehern Arms in Earls Court with his friends, but also practical for riding around London on his BMW RS900 motorcycle.
The style of leather jean Ken made at a time when motorcycle leather trousers and the like on the market were loose fitting and looked baggy, is something The London Leatherman became synonymous with. His trick was to never line the jeans, but cut them so that the raw hide sat directly against the skin to soften nicely to the wearers shape. The jeans pictured here are from circa 1979.
113 Queenstown Road, Battersea
The London Leatherman workshop and showroom was, up until the mid 1990s, located at 113 Queenstown Road, Battersea London. A small Victorian shop, with a façade modelled on what could be described as a Swedish sauna, with slated woodwork, a small window vitrine and a door with a doorbell you had to ring to gain entry.
The vitrine of The London Leatherman shop front, was subjected to much sniggering and rumours by locals and those passing, purely for the fact that anything hinting at homosexuality, fetish or punk rock during the 1970s was very much considered taboo. The vitrine displayed studded leather belts, cuffs and leather masks. The leather masks however, would only be displayed up until 1975 when The London Leatherman would be raided, to no avail, by the police. This was due to the designer and band manager Malcolm McClaren suggesting to police, and capitalising on the myth with a t-shirt, that the notorious Cambridge Rapist wore a London Leatherman Mask! This t-shirt is in the Victoria & Albert Museum.
McClaren & Westwood
It is well documented that designers Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood sold fetish and bondage wear in their boutique SEX (1974-76) on the Kings Road, London and they looked to specialists like The London Leatherman to produce fetish and fashion items to be sold in their shop. The leather items (and some non-leather items such as PVC t-shirts) sold at SEX were supplied by The London Leatherman. The London Leatherman came to be a very significant and convenient supplier in the early days for McClaren & Westwood whose route to and from their home in Clapham and shop in the Kings Road took them right by The London Leatherman showroom and workshop in Battersea.
McClaren & Westwood worked with The London Leatherman from as early as 1972 for their shop ‘Let It Rock’ (1971-73), during the shops ‘Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die’ period, (1973-74), ‘Sex’ and very much for the height of punk when they traded as ‘Seditionaries’ (1976-80). Malcolm McClaren is pictured here outside his boutique SEX wearing leather jeans made by The London Leatherman and t-shirt printed with a picture of a leather mask made by The London Leatherman and sold at SEX.
McClaren & Westwood worked with The London Leatherman for many years and on collection pieces into the 1990s.
The Sex Pistols
It is well known that when Steve Jones, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten and Glen Matlock formed the Sex Pistols their manager Malcolm McClaren took them down to see Ken at The London Leatherman to be fitted for a pair of leather jeans each.
This style of The London Leatherman leather jean seen on Steve Jones, with classic jean style pockets and metal rivets went on to be sold at the boutique SEX and many stockists around the world.
Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols is pictured here on Queenstown Road, Battersea, London with a The London Leatherman shopping bag in his hand after visiting the shop and showroom, circa 1978. With his then girlfriend Nancy Spungen.
Local punks, as well as punks from all over the world, would visit The London Leatherman for their leather clothing and accessories. The London Leatherman studded belts and wrist cuffs were very popular and often the first items bought as an initiation to dressing like a punk!
Studded wrist cuffs
Throughout the 1970s The London Leatherman saw his studded wrists cuffs and belts go from being reserved for fetishists, rebels and punk rockers, to being worn by young teenagers and stylish woman doing their shopping! Jordan Mooney, model, actress and pin-up of punk is one of the key icons to pioneer the fusion of hard-core fetish with fashion. Jordan is seen here wearing two studded wrist cuffs by The London Leatherman. Jordan, a muse to both Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood worked in the shops Sex and Seditionaries in the 1970s.
Debbie Harry of Blondie photographed by Michael Brennan in New York, February 1977. Debbie is wearing trousers made by The London Leatherman, identifiable by the double popper detailing in the front and the straight, slim leg cut of the trouser that Ken of The London Leatherman would make at a time when boot-leg and flares were the norm.
When you bought a pair of leather jeans or trousers from The London Leatherman, Ken, would sometimes make you a studded belt to match. The belts came in many different designs and were made for and sold in many boutiques around London in the 1970s including Let It Rock and Frisco Leathers on the Kings Road and Kensington Market. Debbie’s holding her belt made by The London Leatherman in her hand here.
Leather jackets to complete any leatherman, punk and motorcycling look were made to order by The London Leatherman. Here is a The London Leatherman hand written receipt from circa 1988. The customer on this occasion purchased 1x Leather Jacket which was a custom made jacket with single zip, round collar, western style tassels, made in steer hide and lined with black satin.
The new The London Leatherman collection will launch here in December 2018.
You can read more about The London Leatherman by clicking here