Wallets, belts, portfolios—these accessories may be small in size, but their role in a man’s wardrobe is substantial. Small leather goods are often upstaged by their sexier cousins, shoes and bags, but the little guys deserve better. These more minute bits and bobs are the things you rely on daily, regardless of what you’re wearing: they keep your credit cards on hand, your trousers in place, your life organized.
For many brands, such small accessories are an afterthought, created without much consideration—luxury fashion’s equivalent to gum at the checkout counter. But they’ve been Ettinger’s raison d’être for over 85 years. It is the rare brand that makes the small stuff the main feature. Established by Gerry Ettinger in 1934, the firm began as a supplier of fine leather accessories—from wallets and datebooks to shoehorns and desk sets—to London’s toniest stores like Asprey and Harrod’s. As demand grew, the company began acquiring some of England’s oldest leather manufacturers, which still produce Ettinger’s wares entirely in the United Kingdom.
Robert Ettinger, the founder’s son, has been at the helm for 25 years. Under his watch, the brand earned a Royal Warrant and expanded its range of refined yet practical tools for everyday life. As such, he’s an expert on what a well-appointed man should have in his back pocket, on his desktop and valet. We spoke with him about which small leather goods every man should own and how to keep them in tip-top shape.
Wallets or card cases? Which is better, or do you need both?
They have different purposes. A wallet will hold many more credit cards and notes [cash] and has space for receipts, etcetera. Card cases are smaller and more compact; they can hold some credit cards and even some cash when folded. We now call these ‘mini-wallets’ as they are becoming more and more popular and fit easily into a shirt pocket or small bag. Wallets, which hold so much more, are good for when one is traveling and needs more cards and different currencies.
What about portfolios versus briefcases?
Portfolios tend to be slimmer and lighter than attaché cases and will still hold an iPad, a notebook, and they are now much more popular than they used to be. They also have a lower price point. Briefcases are larger, hold a lot more and protect things much better but are a bit heavier.
How do different leathers affect the performance of certain pieces?
Bridle leather is very traditional and is generally used for the heavier briefcases. It will last for generations—I still use my grandfather’s bridle attaché case, which is 80-years-old. A slightly thinner bridle leather is traditionally used for wallets and coin purses and is still one of our most popular collections.
Goat leather, which is used in our Capra collection, is a very hard-wearing grained leather. It has good water-repellent qualities and a very nice feel to it. Calfskin is a much finer, thinner, lighter leather and is used for everything from wallets and card cases to key rings.
What should one consider when buying a belt?
Ettinger belts have five holes and the fit should be in the middle hole so that the wearer can size up or down as necessary. Belts do get a lot of use and need looking after with leather balm.
Besides a bag, wallet and belt, what are the small leather goods every man should own?
What should one do to care for leather items?
Leather is a natural material and naturally has oils in it but through wear and tear and dry conditions, the use of our Ettinger leather balm will help almost all leathers maintain their oil and suppleness—meaning they will last longer and feel better. The only leather one should not put the balm on is the Saint Crispin leather; although it will not damage the leather, it will change the shade.
The best way to clean any leather is to wipe it with a soft, damp cloth, then leave it to dry naturally. You may use a small amount of leather balm to clean the leather and remove impurities and applying a little wax to polish every once in a while will help protect and nourish the leather.
What are some everyday tips for keeping leather looking its best?
Leather is a very supple material so will change shape easily, which you may or may not want. In any case, avoid compressing your leather accessories—for example, in a tight pocket. This can, especially with the combination of heat, humidity and pressure, cause your leather to deteriorate very quickly.
Over time, rubbing and friction can cause slight depigmentation as the top layers of waxes and colored finishes rub off. This is, unfortunately, inevitable with constant use. However, the leather will darken slightly and acquire a unique patina through use, which should give your leather goods more character.