Shinola is very different to the usual set of brands we are lucky enough to work with here at Dapper Chapper. The most of the brands we work with are London based and have been since the year dot. They tend to be specialised, genteel sort of companies – those that could only really exist in the Old World. They ooze European heritage.
Shinola isn’t any of the above. What it oozes, if anything, is Americana. It possess American heritage in spades and wears this on its sleeve; Shinola is fiercely proud of where it came from and you can feel it in the products, both how they are made and designed. Everything Shinola makes has a kind of slightly industrial, Detroit-y, Motor City-y feel, from the leather in the products right down the rough brown paper of the company documents. There aren’t many frills for this firm; there seems to be a focus on the utilitarian, rugged aspect, seemingly adhering to the American ideal of the self-sufficient, rugged out doorsman.
Where it came from is especially unusual and interesting when compared to our usual brands. Originally, Shinola was a shoe polish manufacturer, famous for the phrase ‘you don’t know shit from Shinola’, due to its resemblance to…you get the picture. Re-established in 2011 in Detroit, Shinola is currently America’s only large scale watch manufacturer, although they aren’t limited to just watches; they also produce a wide range of leather goods.
Shinola’s watches, I have to say, are gorgeous. The Runwell has classic 1960’s lines. The over-emphasis on the simple and large numbers and the placement, and style, of the logo just below the 12, with a second dial just above the six, is very reminiscent of the simple rugged watches produced in America by firms like Ingersoll. The Runwell Chronograph has much the same feel but with more filigree, the extra dials filling in the space left in the original – although more cluttered, the watch maintains a clean look – it looks like I imagine a Mustang pilot’s watch would look. The Brakeman also maintains a feel of older American watch; square casing paired with round faces are now sadly considered very dated. However, I’ve always liked this look – it was actually a hugely popular design in its day. It’s the kind of watch that your grandfather would have worn everyday to work at the office. It’s the kind of watch you could do the same with, if you has a casual but slightly retro style going on.
Shinola also produce a wide range of leather goods, all providing a juxtaposition; although the methods used to construct them look very traditional (no vain, stupid attempts to hide stitching here!), the designs of them are both modern and stylishly simplistic. The leather products seem well made and tough- you feel that, with proper care, these products will last for years. They give off a feeling of solidity and strength, that it will take a serious bit of hammer. The feel of the leather is also one of serious luxury at the same time. The leather, as, in fact, with all of Shinola’s products, is made in America; Horween, one of America’s longest running tanneries. Still family owned, all of the tanning process is done in house, with a real focus on quality. This focus on higher cost, more labour intensive leather production shines through – the beautiful soft leather not only feels expensive in the hand, it also develops its own patina over time through exposure and usage. This, for me, is a fantastic selling point. The leather tells a story of where you’ve taken it and how you’ve used it – for me, a Shinola leather journal won’t, unlike other journals, just lose its colour – it will evolve into a different, more elegant product. It will have people asking questions about the journal, rather than just remarking on its looks.
I suppose the best way I can sum up the Detroity and industrial feel of Shinola is too say that Shinola is to leather what Levi is to denim. Shinola brings out that rugged frontier spirit to products, whilst keeping an eye on the production values that maintain its position as a leader in the American luxury sector. There is good news, however, for those of you reading in the UK; Shinola is coming here! Shinola’s very first store opens in late October in Soho and will sell all their goods, not just those mentioned in these pages but also their polishes and bicycles (all still made in Detroit, mind!). The address of the store is 13 Newburgh Street, but if you can’t wait until then Shinola is launching on Mr. Porter and Net-a-porter, whilst opening up its own internet site for European users on the 1st of October-have at it!