Friday, 20 September 2013

Lewis Leathers

Lewis Leathers shop, Whitfield Street, London in 2013
Lewis Leathers is the brand name of the oldest British motorcycle clothing company, D. Lewis Ltd, manufacturer of iconic leather jackets which was established in the late 19th century.
The company supplied early aviators, motorists and motorcyclists with protective clothing against the cold and damp British climate. In the mid-1950s, D. Lewis produced the Bronx leather jacket, a landmark garment and one of the first products aimed directly at the post-war teenage fashion market, which was widely adopted by the Ton-up Boys and Rockers of the 1960s, becoming closely associated with the 59 Club and sponsoring leading motorcycle and TT racers of the day.

It continues to manufacture and sell high quality, authentically styled classical motorcycle protective clothing worldwide to this day.

D. Lewis of Great Portland Street

1960s Aviakit label

1930s Aviakit label

D. Lewis
 Originally a family business called D. Lewis, started in the 1892 as a gentlemen's outfitter  or "wardobe company", At that time, the company produced Gents suiting and raincoats in the east end of London. D. Lewis became a Limited company in 1929 under the stewardship of brothers Nathan Jones, David and Lewis Isaacs on Great Portland Street in London's West End, they also had Birmingham, Sheffield and Liverpool which traded under the name of N Jones. It was during the 1910s that the company started making and retailing specialist clothing for what was then considered the "gentlemen's" auto sports of aviation and motoring producing their wares in Watford.
At the time, Great Portland Street was known as "Motor Row", the primary location for purchasing automobiles and related accessories in the early years of the 20th century. It had no less than 33 showrooms located along it, including companies such as: Benz Motor, Jaguar, Austin, Morgan Motor and the Indian Motorcycle Company., as well as being the center of the clothing trade.

Initially used as a Telegram address ("Aviakit Wesdo") in 1929, in 1930 the company introduced Aviakit (short for "aviation kit") as the brand name for its aviation clothing, which it had already been selling from the first quarter of the century and acting as contractors to numerous governments around the world including the Netherlands, India, Belgium,South Africa and Greece. It went on to produce clothing for the Royal Air Force during World War II including made to measure outfits for officers. The product line was also to include boots, goggles, and crash helmets identical to those made by Everoak.
Its garments were worn by Spitfire test pilot Sir Alex Henshaw and RAF fighter pilots during World War II.The name still appears in Lewis Leathers jackets, boots, gloves and other products to this day.
Following the end of hostilities, although handicapped by petrol rationing, D. Lewis started selling ex-RAFclothing to de-mobbed motorcyclists and then, in the early 1950s as rationing ended, started to develop more casual items into their ranges, expanding into shops in Sheffield, Birmingham and St Albans. By 1953, its advertising claims were that the company was already the largest motorcycle clothing and accessory company in the UK  and abroad.
The company's products came to represent the high end of the market, out of reach of many individuals, also serving the circuit racing fraternity offering repair and replacement right hand boots which commonly wore out on England's clockwise racing circuits.

Lewis Leathers
 It was not until 1960 that the company registered the name by which it soon became most commonly known, 'Lewis Leathers'. This brand name was introduced on a new range of leather jackets aimed at the youth market and, in 1962, it aligned itself with the burgeoning 59 Club in London, Hackney Wick. As the Mods and Rockers clashed at English seaside resorts, Lewis Leather clothing was to be seen on both sides of the conflict.
In 1982, the company was sold to the Newbold Brothers; it was then sold to Richard Lyon in November 1986. In 1991 its classic designs were to be researched and re-created by Derek Harris. After trading from the same location for 101 years, the Great Portland Street shop closed in 1993. That same year saw the launch of a small 'Retro Range' of Lewis Leathers jackets with lining, labels and hardware all as found on the jackets seen during the 60s and 70s. The release of this range and its subsequent marketing in Japan, USA and the UK coincided with vintage Lewis Leathers jackets becoming increasingly sought after in Japan where they are promoted for their authentic connections to the rockers of the 60s, leading British Punks, Rock musicians and fashion icons, and are often highly customised.
Harris and Lyon continued to expand the range of authentic retro-styled jackets, their efforts leading to collaborations with leading fashion designers such as Comme des Garçons in 2002. In 2003 Lyon announced his retirement leading to Harris, whom, after 12 years researching and working on its designs, took over the company and established an office in Japan opened by 59 Club Japan leader, Koji Baba. The London branch was re-opened close to the original premises in Whitfield Street, part of London's Fitzrovia.
D. Lewis Ltd and Lewis Leathers garments were always produced in England, initially in Watford[ or St Albans, and from 1958 to 1982, in Copperfield Rd, East London. In the 1970s, a small factory in Sheffield was also utilised. In 1982 all production was moved to Northampton, returning to London in 1993 where it remains until the present date.
From the late 1950s Lewis Leathers advertised to motorcyclists and also in popular musical publications such as the NME and Melody Maker. Lewis Leathers were also official suppliers to police motorcyclists in the UK.

Vintage Lewis Leathers Aviakit Super Bronx Twin Track Jacket

1950s Lewis Leathers Bronx label
Vintage style Lewis Leathers Universal Racer mk2 jacket
Lewis Leathers Aviakit Wax Cotton Jacket

Customised Bronx jacket with Ace Cafe detail


Alexandre F. said...

Great Post Jeeves!

Alexandre F. said...
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