Historic brands can be mightily deceptive. Early trading dates might stand proud above doorways; photographs of a visiting member of the Rat Pack may adorn the walls inside; but counters seem more like museum display cabinets and each product is accompanied by rather long-winded explanations of ‘heritage’ and ‘continuity’. I adore history and admire firms with great heritage, but I fear a good many lose sight of the reason for their success. Some will quietly inform you that they’ve been serving members of the same families for generations. However the constant reductions, gift-shop atmosphere of their flagship stores and increasingly disillusioned staff indicate that serious custom is dwindling: the great laurels on which they rest have begun to wither.
Aspinal of London is almost the exact opposite of such firms. To begin with, Aspinal’s is remarkably young. They have no photographs of an Edwardian shop opening, signatures of appreciation from George V or amusing anecdotes concerning Hollywood patrons. Their focus is entirely on the products. There is no attempt to craft false heritage but the quality of the products and the particular style of the brand deceive you into thinking, quite innocently, that it has been around since sepia. The smart Aspinal shield is stamped onto shining metal clasps, leather tags and printed silk. Famous amongst young ladies of my acquaintance for their leather bound social diaries and calendars, Aspinal’s does not have the pedigree or the warrants that the stationer Smythson possesses, but then it has aspirations and ideas beyond goatskin handbag fillers.
Fabulous Malacca umbrellas with interesting canopies (pinstripe and polka dot), delicious crocodile effect leather briefcases with smooth suede linings, Art Deco style mother of pearl cufflinks and colonial style canvas reporter bags with leather trim reveal that the man behind the brand knows a thing or two about design and product quality. Despite the fact that it has been around for less than a decade, Aspinal is one of those companies you feel that has always been there, in the background – like one of those fabulous Florentine paper shops that have been in business since the Renaissance. The selection of ties and bow ties are not all to my taste pattern wise, but they are of a high quality silk and, for their market, are reasonably priced. In fact, everything Aspinal produce is reasonably priced for the quality of manufacture and finish (nearly everything sold is actually manufactured and not merely designed in the UK). A cabin bag for £725 may sound expensive but when you consider that it is made from calf leather and real hide, elegantly lined in red grosgrain and finished with solid brass closure fittings and that an equivalent from Vuitton, manufactured with monogram ‘canvas’, and not leather, costs between £1150 and £1500, you realise that with Aspinal you are not paying for a name at all but simply an excellent product. How refreshing.