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Bill Amberg founded the studio that bears his name over 20 years ago now. Today this is as much an artisans’ collective as a thriving company offering high-end services.

The studio’s endeavours range from architectural services for much-valued corporate and private clients, to interior leather bespoke work, and signature accessories. The studio harnesses the best of one of nature’s most versatile and adaptable resources with an unrivalled creativity in a host of different ways.

Over the last three decades, collaborations with the likes of Aston Martin, Penguin, Donna Karan, Suntory and Alfred Dunhill, and at landmark sites such as the Shard, Stamford Bridge, Burberry in Milan, Tomorrow Land in Japan, and Selfridges has seen Bill Amberg and his studio’s work feature globally.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Bill Amberg says "People's reference points for leather are car interiors and crappy sofas, but there's so much more you can do with it as a material," he explains, animatedly. "It's got lots of odd characteristics—its acoustics are fantastic, so on floors and walls it completely changes a dining room or a library. It's also very warm. It even has medical benefits—we once did a leather floor for a boy who had bad asthma because it’s dust-free!"

Bill Amberg Studio

You could say that Bill Amberg was born into leather. Raised in Northampton – the centre of the British shoemaking industry – he was surrounded by the material throughout his childhood. His mother, an architect with a love of crafting, would pick up cobblers’ offcuts and scraps for him to practise on, so he became accustomed to handling knives, awls and needles from a young age.

When he left school, Bill travelled to Australia to visit his cousin Penny Amberg, a lecturer in leather design at Canberra School of Art. Through her, he met leatherworker Gay Wilson, who became his mentor. As an apprentice in her studio in Adelaide, Bill turned his hand to making jockey’s shoes, wallets and belts. His respect for the material – his understanding of its properties and possibilities – deepened in tandem with his skills.

Returning to London in 1985, Bill set up a leather studio – first in Rotherhithe, later moving to Shoreditch – where he created leather bags, accessories and sculpture. His reputation as a designer and craftsman soon spread to the likes of Liberty, who asked him to create a line of bags in English saddle leather, and Paul Smith, who invited him to create a line of Amberg-branded bags to be sold in his stores.

Consumer goods were only the beginning. A commission to create a bespoke leather floor for an architectural practice brought the Bill Amberg Studio formally into being. In the years that followed, Bill’s work in architecture and interiors grew in parallel with his bag design, eventually becoming the bulk of his business.

In the last 30 years, Bill Amberg has worked with a varied roster of clients across the twin strands of his practice (to put it crudely: ‘bags and buildings’). Bags and accessories bearing the Bill Amberg stamp are available from stockists worldwide and, alongside his own line, Bill has designed bags for labels including Donna Karan, Romeo Gigli, Dunhill and others. In 2001, the V&A admitted the Amberg ‘Rocket’ bag into its archive of design classics.

At the same time, Bill has brought leather into the interiors of iconic buildings such as Claridge’s, Selfridges, the Shard and the Savoy, as well as consulting with renowned architects and interiors outfitters on its incorporation into prestige properties both commercial and residential. Today, he and his studio collaborate with companies and private clients on leather-based interiors commissions for homes and hotels, stores and super yachts, restaurants, members’ clubs and public spaces all over the world.

Although the studio has grown to be much more than the man who founded it, Bill Amberg remains at the heart and helm of the company.

Inside Design exhibition at Great Western Studios

In the first of a new series of exhibitions held at Great Western Studios, Bill Amberg brought to life the story of five different artistic collaborations in leather. He exhibited a Charge bike (with customised leather pan saddle, handle bars, rat traps and mud flaps), a herring-bone parquet floor, a wall-mounted shelf table (using the same techniques that were developed for the Shard reception desk), a pair of paneled doors and a table top desk showing various material combinations.

Amberg has an encyclopaedic knowledge of leather – the texture of different types of skins, how they feel and how they can best be used to create everything, from the 300sq/m floor in Selfridges mens’ shoe department to the lift interiors at the Shard, the perfect bag for cycling, or a myriad of stylish storage solutions for pens to computers.

This is where his design genius lies. Amberg will explore his ethos of developing a product successfully through the process of making it.

By way of background, Amberg grew up in Northampton, the home of the British shoe and leather industry. His mother – a maker and an architect – would buy scraps of leather from the market for her son to transform into his very earliest creations. In Australia, in the early 80s, Amberg met the inspirational mentor and leather worker, Gay Wilson. It was there that Amberg acquired his fundamental belief in craftsmanship and a respect for leather as a multifaceted material.

Timeline

1962
Bill Amberg born in Northampton, UK
1984
Moves to Australia to see his cousin Penny Amberg who was teaching the leather design course at Canberra Art School
1984
Begins apprenticship with leather worker, Gay Wilson
1985
Returns to London and opens studio in Rotherhithe, London
1985
Designs collection of bags for Liberty London in English saddle leather
1986
Relocates offices to Rivington Street, East London
1986
Designs collection of bags for Paul Smith store
1990
Enrolls at London Business School to study global sales and export
1991
Launches Rocket bag inspired by old motorbikes
1991
Begins selling designs in Japan through Isetan, Bay Crews, Tomorrowland and Hankyu
1992
Designs collection of bags for Donna Karan
1993
Marries Susie Forbes, principal at the Condé Nast College of Fashion and Design
1996
Opens first flagship store in Chepstow Road, Notting Hill
1998
Opens a store on Elizabeth Street in downtown Manhattan, New York
1998
Begins selling designs in USA through Barneys NY and Bergdorf Goodman
2001
V&A design museum in London admits Bill’s ‘Rocket’ bag to their archives as a design classic
2004
Designs collection of bags for Dunhill
2004
Flagship store moves to Westbourne Grove, London
2008
Opens a store in London's Westfield Centre
2009
Opens a store in Burlington Arcade, London
2011
Moves office and flagship store to Shepherd's Market, Mayfair

Fact Sheet

Full name
Bill Amberg
Born
Northampton
Nationality
British
Occupation
Leather craftsman
Employer
Liberty London, Paul Smith, Donna Karan, Claridges Hotel, Dunhill, Case
Known for
'Rocket' bag

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