I recently visited the OSPREY LONDON store in Regent Street and was taken aback by how beautiful it was. Inside you feel like you are in a whole other world and are surrounded by OSPREY LONDON’s leather goods including bags, wallets, belts, gloves and so much more. The store also has a real personal touch on it from the owner Graeme Ellisdon, which can be seen from the taxidermy pieces right down to the specially designed staircase. Laid out over two floors, the lower ground floor also hosts the Saddlery Cafe, where you can enjoy some tea and cake after shopping. I ended up absolutely loving one of the teas and had to buy some myself. Rose and hibiscus if anyone is interested.
I decided I wanted to know more behind OSPREY LONDON and managed to speak to the owner himself. Graeme you are under the spotlight…
Can you tell me a little more about how you started OSPREY LONDON and where did the idea come from?
I always dreamed of having my own business and it all began in 1980 with an investment of just £500, making hand stitched leather belts from a hayloft in Hertfordshire. I was 25 years old with a positive attitude and within a few years, the business was turning over a million pounds.
We never stand still as a business, first launching leather bags and accessories; then our O.S.P OSPREY diffusion collection followed by furniture, clothing, fragrance and gifts; before moving into our own stores and cafés. But our passion for craftsmanship, fine materials and great design runs through everything we do.
When I visited the store recently I was so amazed by all the unique elements to it. What made you want to give the store such a personal touch?
I’m glad you felt it! When you grow, develop and nurture a business, it is completely personal. To succeed in anything in life, you have to care. You have to care hugely about the product you make and offer for sale; you have to care about your customers; your staff; and the personal experience you create in each store.
We had held out to find the right location for our flagship store: we were looking for a space which could embody all that our brand represents, with a strong sense of English design, craftsmanship and natural materials. When my wife Alex and I found the store on Regent Street, it was an empty shell – albeit one with great bone structure. We set about breathing life into the space to create a store that feels like our place in town, so it’s entirely personal! We hope that what we’ve created in store allows you to relax and enjoy discovering the stories behind what we are doing here.
Where do you seek new inspiration from?
If you are open and interested in the stuff of life, inspiration finds you! For example, The Original Rugger, our iconic men’s washbag, was inspired one day when heading to the airport to visit our manufacturers. I came across one of our sons’ rugby balls, which had been chewed by the dogs. I had the idea of turning that construction into a washbag and now we also sell The Rugger trimmed with the team colours of the top seven rugby playing nations.
I absolutely love the men’s rugger wash bags and the story behind them. Will you be watching the Rugby World Cup this year?
Of course! There’s a real sense of camaraderie during these big sporting events. The Brits and London in particular does a great job staging international sporting events from the Olympics to Wimbledon. We’ll be celebrating the Rugby World Cup with new pieces in our men’s collection too.
Which piece from the new collection are you most excited about?
I’m excited to say that we are now working with some great English leather manufacturers on new OSPREY LONDON collections that will be launching towards the end of the year – it’s great to be back on home soil.
But until then, I am particularly excited about the new Equestrian Collection of bags and briefcases that we are launching in a wonderful bottle green Vachetta leather. They’re handstitched and made in very small quantities so the attention to detail is superb.
How would you describe the OSPREY LONDON customer?
I spend as much time as I can out and about, and love showing customers around our flagship store. Some of them may have bought an OSPREY LONDON belt 30 years ago and have at last decided it’s now time to buy an Oak table! Some of the younger crowd may have started with us drinking a hot chocolate in the Saddlery Café before graduating onto wearing one of our gorgeous leather bags. It’s about a shared attitude to life and time. Typically our customer appreciates the integrity of solid British design and celebrates great natural materials worked with love by skilled craftsmen.
You launched a men’s shirt collection in 2011, do you ever see OSPREY LONDON branching out into more clothing?
We just launched a jazzy collection of men’s woollen socks which are made in England, and the feedback from customers has been fantastic. Next month, we are launching our new English Alpaca Lounge Socks, in pale blue, pink and cream. They are incredibly soft and warm: just the thing for lazy days and chilly nights.
If I was to join you in the Saddlery Cafe for tea and cake, what would be your cake of choice?
There’s a time for salad and a time for indulgence so I’d probably order a selection for us to enjoy – especially the Lemon Drizzle cake, which is an exquisite balance of sweet and sour.
All the Saddlery Café cakes are handmade locally and they are wheat and gluten-free. Retail is hospitality at the end of the day and it’s something I am really passionate about.
You are a very passionate designer: are there any designers you could see yourself collaborating with?
When I first started OSPREY LONDON, I designed collections of handmade belts, small leather goods and gloves for Ralph Lauren and Paul Smith.
I really admire them both for the great businesses they have created and for their enduring personal integrity – I would love to work with them again.
What is your favourite dinner spot in London?
I really enjoy Polpo at the moment – it’s spot on!
What vision do you have for OSPREY LONDON for the year ahead?
There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes to ensure our stores offer our customers a great shopping experience, but above all, we are looking forward to bringing out some stunning new collections for men, for women and for the home in 2015 in our stores and online at www.ospreylondon.com. We hope you’ll visit us again soon!
– Thankyou to Graeme for the interview and I’ll definitely be back!