Hip Leather Hides (Without the Bad Western Vibes)

Bill Amberg collaborates with top talent on his new leather line.

One of the advantages to being at the top of your craft is the freedom to invite talented friends into the studio and let them loose. British leather specialist Bill Amberg shows us how it’s done. Calling on his creative circle, he invited designers across various disciplines to collaborate on his new project: a line of digitally printed fine leather hides just revealed during London Design Week.

It’s an interesting premise for an artisan whose handcrafted techniques have been a calling card for decades. But tech tempts everyone. “I’ve always been interested in how new technologies can be mixed with old techniques and traditional materials to create something fresh and compelling,” says Amberg. “As developments in tanning and printing have moved forward, I became curious as to how we could produce something attractive to a wider audience.”

It helps to begin with good base material. For this project, Amberg offered undyed European bull hides, measuring around 53 square feet, as blank canvases for the group. From there a cast of heavy-hitters–Natasha Baradaran, Alexandra Champalimaud, Tom Dixon, Faye Toogood, and wallpaper duo Timorous Beasties—created nine rousing patterns that took full advantage of the digital process. Los Angeles-based designer Baradaran created Elle, a modern take on lace that keeps her sophisticated-without-the-pomp style in good form. Sketchpad is an arresting abstract motif drawn from Toogood’s personal notebooks that leaves everything to interpretation. While Foil, one of four patterns by Dixon, is a surging metallic graphic.

Starting at $1,050, the hides are intended for residential, hospitality, or marine use. Which suggests you will need the hand of a design expert. Unless you prefer to freestyle it with Bohemian abandon—hides on the floor, hides on the bed, hides on the wall.

As design creations, the patterns are impressive but this is also an instance where the technical side deserves a shout-out. Most digitally printed hides suffer from a plasticky sheen (not a good look). But with these hides, Amberg has achieved superb, high-quality results “The specialist digital printing technology has been refined and developed to be fit for purpose over the course of three years,” says Amberg. “It uses a wide print bed and provides a much finer dye penetration to the skin than previously possible. This means the printed designs are hard-wearing and do not crack or rub off over time.”

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