Meet Up Monday: Moore & Giles

Lynchburg, Virginia-based Moore & Giles has a fascinating history and present-day business model. Started in 1933 as a supplier of shoemaking materials from leather and laces to rivets, glue and thread, the company has since evolved into one of the world’s premier suppliers of leather for high-end home furnishings, commercial and private interior design and private aviation. (Yeah, that means it probably provided the upholstery of your buttery soft passenger seat the last time your now billionaire high school bud flew you aboard his Gulfstream). The company sources its fine leathers from all over the globe and has longstanding relationships with the world’s best tanneries. In addition to sourcing industrial leather, it also produces and distributes its own covetable line of leather bags and accessories that are sold directly to consumers via its website and in better stores. On average, these items retail for $400 to $1,000. We recently met up with the Moore & Giles’ president and CEO Sackett Wood and its bag designer Thomas Brennan to learn more about the company’s love of leather….

What sector makes up the bulk of your business?

Sackett Wood: High-end home furnishings. It’s the highest percentage but the other markets are the highest growth opportunities and are growing the most right now. I make the analogy all the time that tanning is like fine cooking: You can follow just the normal recipe and come out with something that is pretty good or you can spend a lot of time working on it by adding and subtracting and trying new things. It’s the blend of very sound scientific principles to get leather stabilized and preserved. The re-tanning process and the finishing process are really the artistic, creative side that you can have a lot of fun with if you are willing to be patient and have patient partners who are willing to spend the time to do it. So we’ve really gone around the world to find the right partners in Italy, Spain, Germany, New Zealand, Thailand, India and places like that. The flavors of each country are different, just the way they are with food. So that geographic diversity gives us a really broad reach in our line and product.

How many different kinds of leather do you offer?

SW: We warehouse probably over 800 SKUs in Virginia all of which we developed ourselves.

Is there a lot of crossover in terms of trends and looks between the various sectors that you deal in?

SW: I wouldn’t say there is a lot of crossover. But having a recognizable consumer product line creates a whole brand recognition across all sectors of the business. People see the name Moore & Giles and associate that with leather. The thing about the bag line is that these are our leathers and it’s a very focused group of leathers that we spend a lot of time working on. They are hard to make.

What else makes them so special?

SW: The bags are really made to last not just a lifetime but to be passed down. They’ve got beyond great leather. The hardware, the lining and the sewing are all done by very skilled craftsmen.

What is the bags/accessories line’s design aesthetic and what sets its offerings apart from those of other brands?

Thomas Brennan: The leather that we have is so good that it really makes my job fairly easy. I don’t need to overdesign so my approach tends to be to keep the bags as simple as possible but to also sneak in unexpected little bits of utility that someone who is using this on a day to day basis–whether its their messenger bag, their travel bag or their dopp kit–that the more they use it the more they appreciate these little things that may not be evident at first. We have a Suit Valet model, which is kind of like a compact garment bag. It’s a pretty straightforward piece that sort of wears its use on its sleeve and looks very clearly like a garment bag. But then on the outside hidden behind what sort of looks like a decorative stripe of leather is actually concealing a nice big pocket that holds our shirt pack and a tie case. We are trying to remain subtle and trying to let the leather lead the design and the look. So we make sure it works better than anything you might expect.

Do you just go into the company archive to select the leathers that you use to make these pieces?

TB: I do. We have a real benefit. We probably have 3 million square feet of leather here right outside my door. So I do have a lot to choose from. I have sort of started off by inheriting [the previous designer’s] leathers, which is probably two or three, but as we have moved forward and developed the line we have been able to really been able to skim the cream off the top of the leather that we have here in house. We’re using a few different tanneries but almost all the leather that we use on the bag side comes from Italy. That helps set us apart. We’re working with tanneries that have been doing this for 100 years and have just a depth of knowledge that is unrivalled.

How often do you release new styles?

TB: Twice a year.

What are some of your most unique offerings?

TB: Going into this next cycle we have developed a horseshoe set. I met a man who is an artist in Providence, Rhode Island and he and I worked together to develop Moore & Giles custom horseshoes. It’s sort of taking this idea of playing horseshoes and elevating it by creating this custom carrying case. It’s just a beautiful piece and it’s fun and it’s unexpected. And it really benefits from being able to be made in this material that just screams luxury.

So how much will that cost?

TB: That will retail for around $990 so it’s definitely a sort of marquis piece but we have a lot of success with things like that because we can only do so many briefcases!