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At Walter Reginald Ltd, Leather Merchants

September 21, 2015
by the gentle author

Dee Ahmed

In Wapping, where once there were hundreds of warehouses packed with exotic treasures, I had mistakenly believed there were no longer any such wonders left to be discovered – until I came upon Walter Reginald, the East End’s largest sheepskin & leather merchants, tucked away behind Machine Mart at 100 The Highway.

Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went to investigate, and we were intoxicated by the smell of leather in its infinite variety of colours and finishes, brought from all over the world and crammed into this well-ordered storehouse. This is where designers come to seek material for manufacturing coats, belts and bags, and costume-makers source fleeces and hides to dress film actors in epic mythological dramas, yet also where anyone can walk in and buy a sheepskin.

“We are London’s leather heaven,” declared Jill Saxony widening her eyes in dizzy excitement. She has presided over the company since her husband Raymond Farbey’s death in 2008, assisted by her glamorous daughters Natalie & Bianca, and supported by a loyal team of long-term staff including co-director Malcolm Proops who has been there thirty years. The prevailing atmosphere is that of a small well-run family hotel where everyone goes about their business with relaxed efficiently yet all have time to answer questions and enjoy a chat with customers, most of whom return regularly.

Walter Reginald was established seventy years ago by Walter Weiss, who had fled to this country from Austria before the war, and his company merged with Jill’s husband’s company in the eighties. Today, Jill maintains a discreet presence in the office, while Natalie & Bianca hold court out in the warehouse attending to the customers and maintaining a constant stream of good-humoured sisterly banter.

Orders are laid out across a huge table, presenting swathes of sensuous colour to please the eye while more options are brought from each corner of the warehouse to present an embarrassment of choices. There is a compelling theatre to this process of rolling and unrolling large pieces of leather, expressed in gasps of wonder and delight as unexpected colours are revealed with a dramatic flourish and customers clasp their hands in pleasure, inspired by the potential of such luxurious materials.

The spectacle of all the fleeces at Walter Reginald reminded me that my old sheepskin waistcoat might not last another winter. When I acquired it in New York City twenty years ago, the waistcoat was already thirty years old and now it has become brittle and ragged. Yet over all these winters I have come to rely upon its warmth.

To my amazement and gratitude, Natalie was able to match the colour and quality of the fleece and Bianca directed me to someone who could make a replica. So thanks to Walter Reginald and the last warehouse of wonders in Wapping, I can relax, secure in the knowledge I am ready to face the winter weather, snug in my sheepskin waistcoat for many years to come.

The staff at Walter Reginald

Natalie Saxony-Farbey, General Manager

Barry Francis, Sales Manager

Bianca Nilsson, Director

Malcolm Proops, Director, has been with the company for thirty years

Danny McMullan, Warehouse Apprentice

Bianca, Natalie and their mother Jill

My sheepskin waistcoat made from fleeces supplied by Walter Reginald

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

Walter Reginald, 100 The Highway, St George-in-the-East, E1 2BX

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7 Responses leave one →
  1. September 21, 2015

    What a wonderfully exotic place to visit, makes one want to touch and feel the leathers. Your new waistcoat is very smart, stay warm! Valerie

  2. Carol Gilham permalink
    September 21, 2015

    This is one of your best posts ever, and I am pretty much a total fan! This establishment has colour, and a rainbow of skilled people, it is thriving and employing all ages, it is in the heart of a vibrant community……. and almost best of all, it has a newly made sheepskin waistcoat. I was so hoping there would be a photo of it, and there was! The skill and expertise shining out from this post is breath taking. Thank you so much. We need to hear the stories about migrants/refugees coming and enriching our society, as they do and have done throughout time, and as they will do.

  3. September 21, 2015

    I too was hoping to see before-and-after shots of the waistcoat–and there’s the new item! Makes me want to slip it on right now as autumn’s chill winds are finally descending upon us.

    The owners and employees look like ‘family’ members pleased with their daily tasks. They work with such vibrant materials.

    Thanks for introducing us to them!

  4. Ros permalink
    September 21, 2015

    What a lovely post! What lovely pictures! What a lovely waistcoat!

  5. September 21, 2015

    Great post and I love that waistcoat!

  6. BPL permalink
    September 21, 2015

    I’ve been coming to Walter Reginald since I was a student fifteen years ago. The place, blessedly, never changes. And Malcolm is a legend. You used to see Alexander McQueen come for sampling skins back in the day. There are still a few gems hidden away like this: try Alma in Whitechapel or Batchelors in de Beauvoir.

  7. Andrea Levene permalink
    September 25, 2015

    I’ve been there too, I got a honey coloured basketweave leather to be used on wardrobe sliding doors & they look fabulous.

    Great article on a fantastic emporium of colourful tactile delights & exotic smells from the skins.

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