At Walter Reginald Ltd, Leather Merchants
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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