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Style: Best of the Best Furnishings: Martin Dingman

William Kissel

With little interest in the mass market, Martin Dingman left the presidency and creative helm of Cole Haan accessories just before the Maine leather goods company was purchased by Nike. Dingman established his own signature leather goods business in 1990, initially manufacturing only handmade belts using the finest American alligator, Italian calfskin, and New Zealand lamb. From the beginning, Dingman wanted his label to be luxe, which is why he topped off his handcrafted leather straps with jewelry-quality .925 solid sterling silver, 14-karat gold vermeil, and solid 14-karat white and yellow gold buckles. “I recognized early on that there are two things you cannot be simultaneously: the biggest and the best,” says Dingman, whose company is based in Diamond City, Ark.

While others have tightened their belts during the recent economic woes, Dingman has expanded his collection. First he introduced a line of limited edition belts featuring vintage plaque buckles (circa 1890 to 1920) updated in 14-karat and 18-karat gold and sterling silver. He followed that with the launch of a made-to-measure and custom belt program that allows the customer to choose a skin—alligator, crocodile, ostrich, or calfskin—and complement it with any of 30 or more buckle designs. Dingman’s custom belts are measured to the half-inch to ensure proper sizing, and personal inscriptions can be engraved on the strap interior.

Dingman’s ever-expanding collection offers much more than help to hold up a pair of trousers. Over the past several seasons he has added hand-sewn kid leather and Nile crocodile gloves lined in chamois or Chinese cashmere, handmade attachés, briefcases, and luggage. Dingman also has a complete collection of small leather goods that includes wallets, tie cases, travel valets, passport holders, and money clips.

The most recent addition to Dingman’s portfolio is a collection of ready-made footwear, which consists of 20 styles ranging from casual moccasins to 1940s-inspired dress shoes with Goodyear welted soles. “It seems as though every footwear maker endeavors to put alligator shoes on the market for under $1,000, which is an oxymoron,” says Dingman. “If you’re going to use the finest leather in the world, why make it a Chevy?” Dingman’s version is handmade from baby alligator, fully leather-lined, and finished with a flexible welted sole. “But ours [soles] don’t start off like a two-by-four,” he says. “We’ve found a way to make them flexible from the beginning.” Footwear is probably not the end of Dingman’s expansion plans. “I’m trying to hold myself back,” he says. “We’re not doing outerwear—yet.”

Martin Dingman, 800.955.2358, www.martindingman.com

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Photo courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, New York; Li Hongbo