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History of Lewis Leathers Part2

Most important brand "Lewis Leathers" in history of British culture.
Derek Harris, the 5th generation owner, tells tradition and innovation.

10 4/22 UP

Text:Andrew Bunney Photo:Tommy Translation:Mayumi Horiguchi

Known for their distinctive motorbike jackets, Lewis Leathers is one of the UK’s
most enduring clothing companies - having survived wars, dramatic changes in
social history and the winds of fashion for nearly 120 years.

At its height in the 1970s, Lewis Leathers had six shops nationwide in Sheffield,
Birmingham and London. The stores offered boots, accessories and
made-to-measure leather jackets but by 1986 all had closed. Remaining as a
made-to-order business for many years, Lewis Leathers have recently opened a
new London shop close to the original address.

Family-owned until 1981 when the company changed hands, the helm eventually
fell to Derek Harris. Harris has been the owner of Lewis Leathers since 2003
although his involvement with the brand stretches back some 20 years.

Growing up with Punk as a teenager, Harris has seen and been involved with a
number of youth cults and London scenes. He was instrumental in introducing
a number of classic UK brands to Japan in the 1990s. Although his involvement
with Lewis Leathers started as a customer, his passion and obsession led him to
research the true company history, the products’ evolution and Lewis Leathers’
significance in UK motorcycling and fashion culture.

The first half of "History of Lewis Leathers Part1" which Derek Harris, the 5th generation owner, told was uploaded on April 14.


Andrew Bunney(A)
Were any groups of young people going to Lewis Leathers specifically for the name by the ‘60s?
Derek Harris(D)
There were other labels around like Mascot, Pride And Clarke(*1), but Lewis Leathers was always the jacket to have partly through clever marketing, but also through the quality and styling.

The main thing was the 59 Club(*2), the motorcycle group set up by Father Bill Shergold. He was a motorcyclist, but he’d been watching all these kids dying trying to do ‘the ton’ and not understanding the danger they were in and not appreciating death. It was already called the 59 Club from 1959, but in 1962 he went up to the Ace Café and started handing out leaflets to come to this youth club in East London. They laughed at him a little bit, but they went on the first night and little by little more and more went and they would have dances. They would never try and force religion onto these kids, but they would council them and see if anything was wrong at home and they would work with the police and try and give these kids some sort of direction.

From late 1962, Lewis Leathers would go there, onto the stage in the church hall and take a load of jackets, badges and tape measures and measure up these kids - two weeks later they would come back with a jacket.

Father Shergold and Father Hullet would always dress head to toe in Lewis Leathers, boots, trousers, with the dog-collar underneath.

As Lewis Leathers were so closely involved with the 59 Club, they used to sponsor the Link Magazine: they put an advert in every issue. Basically, the look of young rockers from 62 onwards was Lewis Leathers. They could buy the jackets on instalments, and they became the jacket to have.

Prior to that we were already kitting out TT Racers, and the guys that rode around Mallory Park and Brands Hatch etc, and had been supplying riders in Brookland’s from the 20s and 30s so there had always been this position of motorcycle racing clothing as well as street-riding.

*1:Mascot, Pride And Clarke…A British leather wear maker.
*2:59 Club …Motor cycle section that makes Father Bill Shergold who is father in British church initiator


A :
In the ‘60s, were people buying the jackets as casual-wear?
D :
There was also a separate range available. There were little mini catalogues that were available if you wrote off from the adverts in NME or Melody Maker, and if you sent off to department Lewis Leather MM (for Melody Maker) or Lewis Leather NME (for New Musical Express), you would get a different catalogue from the one you would get if you wrote off through Motorcycle News. These mini-catalogues didn’t have any goggles, just a few boots but none of the real serious motorcycle stuff. They had the jackets, boots, but you could also get things for Mods as well. Pointy-toed winkle-picker(*3)boots, round-collar leather jackets, 3-button leather jackets, waistcoats, there was a whole fashion side to it that Rockers would also wear as well if they were going to a dance, for example.
A :
Was this from other brands or all D. Lewis or Lewis Leathers?
D :
Lewis Leathers were making all of this. We had a factory in Stepney, where all the Highwayman jackets, another of our brands, were made as well. Highwayman was wholesaled, Lewis Leathers was only available through our own shops – there were 6 shops nationwide. The Highwayman range was sold to various shops. The same jackets really, just different labels. There was certainly street and casual clothing available, as it was in the 40s and 50s through our catalogues as well, golfing clothing for example.
Boots were always a big feature, a lot of colours of boots, gloves for rainy days, for cold days, for sunny days as well. We also had a range of helmets from the ‘50s onwards as well.

A :
Were there more people buying the Motorcycle jackets for fashion as time went on?
D :
I think there was that in the ‘60s as well, you have The Beatles wearing biker jackets without riding motorcycles. Maybe they did in their spare-time, but they weren’t famous for it. So there would have been people buying leather jackets to walk around the streets in to look cool – which they undoubtedly did. As Rock ’n’ Roll waned a bit in the later 60s and early 70s it was more of a biker jacket again. There were some that were more casual like the Sportsman which was a lighter lined jacket that you would wear going to a race, Mallory Park or something, you might wear it just as a spectator. You could have team club colours. But in the ‘70s when the Ramones were wearing their leather jackets, the English Punks wanted to do the same, including the bands. The Clash went there, Brian James, Rat Scabies of The Damned, Steve Jones. Sid Vicious had an old Dominator jacket that he got off Viv Albertine of The Slits. The leather jacket was something to be seen in. You couldn’t get American jackets here, there were very few of those about, but who needed it, you know? Lewis Leathers was quite nice because it gave the English Punks a different look to the American Punks, as well as the obvious trousers(*4), creepers and all that kind of stuff.

*3:winkle-picker…Sharpened shoes that explosively became popular in the 1960's.
*4:creepers …Shoes with thick rubber bottom.