Dahlman1807’s leatherwork is a labour of love
Ahead of the Dahlman1807 and Goods accessories collection launch on 23 May, take a trip down Danish design’s memory lane
A series of unfortunate events in September 1807 landed leather craftsman Wilhelm Ludvig Dahlman his dream job. When the British Army and their newly acquired Congreve fire rockets ruthlessly blitzed Copenhagen, the city was reduced to a fireball; public buildings were obliterated, and the cathedral tower toppled. Some 200 lives were lost, among them the Danish Royal Stables’ master saddler. A fortnight later, the 28-year-old Dahlman stepped into the role. He would go on to found his own company in 1825, which became the Royal Court Saddler and still reigns as the world’s oldest leather brand.
The Dahlman brand has borne witness to Copenhagen’s key moments: the introduction of concrete, the rise of the modernist ideal, the American effect and the bicycle boom. Keeping with the times, the brand underwent its own renaissance, translating its expertise in riding gear into high-end consumer goods.
Creative royalty soon flocked in. In 1942, they collaborated with architect Erik Herløw to rework their classic briefcase, the ‘Architect’s Bag’, now a piece of Danish design history (as featured in W*238). In the 1950s, they stitched the seat of Børge Mogensen’s renowned hunting chair. They even won over American jazz virtuoso Miles Davis, who sported a Dahlman belt on the cover of his seminal album Kind of Blue.
The brand entered a new chapter in 2017, when the youthful trio of Jeppe Dencker, Tove Christensen and Mikkel Lyshøj took over. One of their first moves was the renovation of the historic headquarters on Fortunstræde, the cobbled Copenhagen street where Dahlman has operated for a century. Here, customers are privy to the inner workings of the three-strong production line, furnished with all the messy charm of handmade manufacture. Scattered cuts of leather and rolls of raw vegetable tanned hide ready to be transformed into their minimalist range of hand-sewn belts, wallets and bags.
The same handcrafted ethos employed by their predecessors was deployed at this year’s Wallpaper* Handmade X exhibition. Dahlman1807 (as they’re now known) created a vinyl bag (a spin on the Architect’s Bag), vinyl brush, and leather fittings for the ‘Cabinet of Love’, a smoked oak audio station devised alongside OEO Studio, Garde Hvalsøe, Bergmann Audio and Gato Audio.
This month sees the brand trade beyond the historic shop for the first time. They’ve joined forces with menswear retailer Goods, who champion Danish craftsmanship with a roster that includes the likes of Andersen-Andersen, Mismo and Frama.
Kasper Hostrup, founder and owner of Goods had been following Dahlman’s revival closely. He approached Dencker with a pitch to expand their lines of small leather accessories to form a new collection. This includes a bi-fold wallet, coin wallet, cardholder, belt and key ring, tanned in either black, dark brown or cognac and sold exclusively in Goods’ shop on Østerbrogade. Hostrup is taking a long-term view: ‘I look forward to seeing the results of our joint venture in ten to fifteen years, when wear and tear has given the products a lovely patina.’
Stockholm-based tannery Tärnsjö will treat the leather with all-natural acids found in bark, leaves and fruit. ‘These products are the pinnacle in terms of craftsmanship, quality and simple timeless design,’ says Dencker.
This may be Dahlman’s first move into wholesale, but there’s more in the pipeline. ‘We’re not in a rush and we will be focusing on a small number of carefully selected retailers worldwide,’ says Dencker. ‘We have teamed up with some the best craftsmen and production partners in Europe who can help us grow our production volume without having to compromise on quality or design.’
Dahlman1807 isn’t just a brand with a great backstory; it’s one that, against the odds of mass-production, has sustained itself on openness to collaboration, old-world handiwork and pure labour of love. Their work is beginning to fly the long-held nest, but it looks like the oldest and most valued leather producer in Denmark is tanning, stitching and buckling its way to global acclaim. §