Decades of support to maintain heritage craft skills has earned a fashion expert the honour of becoming a freeman of the Leathersellers’ Company.
Associate Professor, Gillian Proctor has been invited to become a Freeman of the Leathersellers’ Company
, a 600-year old organisation in the City of London.
Today the organisation is focused on working with charity partners to enable individuals and communities, fostering opportunity through education, and supporting a sustainable UK leather industry. Some of this work involves championing craft skills and providing financial support for craftspeople, students and charities.
“It’s an incredible honour,” said Gillian, who is faculty enterprise lead for the Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU). “I was very touched and humbled to receive the letter.
“Leather is a material that I’m particularly fond of, and it’s encouraging to have your interests, skills and your passion for something to be acknowledged in this way. I’ve been passionate about keeping these traditional crafts alive in the widest context and of course in leatherworking.
“We encourage our students to work with heritage materials and learn these bespoke hand skills because the alternative is that we risk losing whole generations of people who can deliver this exquisite detailed and intricate work.”
Gillian’s engagement with Leathersellers dates back to 1982, when she was a part time lecturer on DMU’s (then Leicester Polytechnic’s) prestigious Contour Fashion course and wanted to help students whose designs used leather. She approached the livery company to ask for their support in supplying leather and in directing students’ historic skills and in particular, bespoke hand stitching techniques.
She said: "Leather is such a fabulous, malleable, responsive material but sadly for many students a material unattainable in the current economic climate. I have made it a policy to work with the Company to not only promote leather but in an affordable capacity which makes it attainable for all students. The Company has been exemplary in its funding support for the widest possible number of students."
The link between the Leathersellers and DMU flourished. In June, the Leathersellers will bring members of its Court – the equivalent of a modern-day Board of Directors – and Trade Board to visit, a first for DMU.
The Master Leatherseller (the board chairman) and Court members will make an annual visit to DMU to view students’ designs, set professional challenges to students and discuss the wider applications of leather within the university, including the Leather Design Awards, recently featured in the Leathersellers Company Leather Review the Leather School featuring tutorage by bespoke leathermaker, Charlie Laurie
, who recently made a brief case for the King and includes a one day visit to the Institute of Creative Leather Technologies at Northampton University to review its laboratories.
This year a huge project called Artifacts Live
was launched, a concept devised by Gillian, which saw the Museum of Leathercraft loan 20 historic items from its archive to DMU from the 14thC to the present day.
Students have each selected two artifacts to research the historic craft techniques and will produce contemporary Art & Design solutions items inspired by them but utilising the technologies available on campus in a new exhibition which will launch in October at DMU Museum, alongside the originals. The exhibition is being curated by Elizabeth Wheelband of the museum, and follows support from the team: Gillian Proctor, Elizabeth Wheelband, Mary O’Neill, Richard Hudson Miles and Rhianna Briars, and additionally supported by Steven Peachey and Chris Wright of the university’s drawing centre.
The Leathersellers’ Company is partially sponsoring the project, which began with a leather tour for the students involved, which included visits to Bill Amberg’s
studio in London, Pittard’s
tannery in Yeovil, and Mulberry
bags near Bath. The Company will encourage interaction from leather workers, events, activities, courses, lectures etc and associated supporting partners offering ongoing support for the project throughout its eight-month duration. The project aligns with the university strategy of Partnerships with Purpose, and supports the going sustainability driver as the UN’s educational partner for its SDGs. Following the eight-month showcase on campus, the exhibition will be hosted by the Leathersellers Company in London.
The Leathersellers was officially founded by Royal charter in 1444 to regulate the sale and trade of leather in the City of London. It is now focused on working with charity partners to enable individuals and communities, fostering opportunity through education, and supporting a sustainable UK leather industry.
Master of the Leathersellers’ Company, Clare Lennon said: "Gillian is a passionate and dedicated advocate for leatherwork and leather education in the UK. We look forward to welcoming her into the Company’s membership and continuing our long association with De Montfort University. Through Gillian we have been able to support and enable a wider community of young people who use leather as part of their degree courses, expanding the opportunity to work with the material, developing skills specific to leatherwork, and helping to bring students success in their future careers."
Posted on Tuesday 23rd May 2023