Designer, retailer, brand owner and CEO, Graeme Ellisdon was born on 7th July 1955 in Hertfordshire. Leaving school to try his hand at a series of jobs in the UK and in Europe, on returning to England, Graeme founded OSPREY LONDON in 1980 with just £500, creating a collection of beautiful handmade leather belts. Snapped up almost immediately by some of the UK's leading retailers, his best-selling belts were soon joined by leather bags and accessories for women and for men.
I have always loved working with leather because it's a natural material with real integrity that improves with age, he explains.
When I'm making a bag or a belt or a wallet, it reminds me of my father who was a carpenter. As natural materials, leather and wood require work and craftsmanship to transform them from something raw into something beautiful that lives on. There's something about the ancient simplicity of that which I really relate to.
Rather than sketching designs on paper, Graeme has always preferred to respond to the leather and engineer it into a working 3D sample. It's this built-engineered approach that ensures OSPREY LONDON bags, belts and accessories are work so well in real-life use. Every strap, pocket and fastening has been considered and put through its paces so it not only looks gorgeous but it works beautifully too.
Graeme's approach to construction, natural materials and craftsmanship has seen him travel the globe to work with like-minded manufacturers, extending the brand seamlessly from leather bags and accessories into other materials such as silk and cotton and other product categories, with home fragrance, gifting and sunglasses now an integral part of the product mix.
As passionate about the development of the business as he is about the product itself, Graeme is a true business pioneer, spearheading the company's move into internet retailing in 2005 and extending the company's retail presence, with the development of the OSPREY HOME lifestyle concept store in a beautiful rural location outside St Albans. Today this site hums with customers who come to visit not only OSPREY HOME but also an OSPREY LONDON outlet store, the highly popular JJAM X OSPREY LONDON Cafe, alongside tenant brands, designer knitting company Rowan at OSPREY HOME and beauty studio, Francesca Beauty.
In 2009, Graeme launched the first of what is now a growing series of award-winning OSPREY LONDON outlet stores, offering great product at the right price, with first class service in beautifully designed stores, across the UK and with an outpost in Finland. More recently, Graeme has championed a highly successful new style of retail offering a hybrid mix of the best of outlet offers with full priced collections under one roof, as can be enjoyed in our Radlett, Hitchin and Ringwood stores.
Having celebrated the company's 30th anniversary in 2010, Graeme returned the brand to the capital with a new London flagship store in 2014, at 27 Regent Street St James's. In a landmark listed building on the corner of Jermyn Street, the two storey flagship was designed by Graeme and Alex Ellisdon. Following the change in visitor habits post-pandemic, plans are underway to reconfigure the flagship to become a more social space, with a cafe-bar on the ground floor with outdoor seating and gallery style retail around the perimeter inside, showcasing the brand's leather collections, as well as jewellery, art, furniture, homewares and collaborations with artists such as Grayson Perry.
Having based the company's head office, showrooms and distribution functions since 2001 within a former Victorian hat factory in Luton, Graeme and Alex announced two significant moves for the company in 2021, as part of their ambitious plans to scale up the business. Firstly, the company has invested in a state of the art 13,000 sq ft warehouse in Hemel Hempstead to handle distribution, not only to ecommerce customers and OSPREY LONDON stores but also to the brand's rapidly growing roster of key wholesale accounts, including Next.
Secondly, it was announced that some head office functions would be relocating to the company's Studios at The Hoo, Great Gaddesden, following the completion of the first 5-year stage in a huge and ongoing restoration project of this Hertfordshire country house estate.
With major plans underway for further expansion, these are exciting times for OSPREY LONDON.
THE DESIGN PROCESS Q&A WITH GRAEME ELLISDON
Where do you begin the design process?
For me, it all begins with the leather. Different leathers have different characteristics that will suggest a particular route or a feel.
Where do you like to sketch your designs?
I don't sketch: I'm hands-on. I prefer to take a piece of leather and work with our craftsmen to build a 3D sample. I'm interested in the performance and mechanics of how a bag works so it is built from the inside out with zip-up security compartments, clasps and mobile phone pockets all playing a role. This way your bag will maintain its shape and look beautiful for longer.
Where do you find your inspiration?
I take it from everything that interests me - from my travels and my garden, from music, art and literature and even equestrian tackle. With its straps and buckles, it reminds us of our links with the land while carrying a subtly sexy hint of punk bondage. You might describe some of my designs as rock & roll saddlery. I also find mid-century style fascinating: that can-do spirit & glamour of the 1940s and 1970s that the English show when times are tough strikes a chord with me now.
How easy is it to dream up two collections a year?
I don’t stop at just two! I’m constantly creating, looking at leathers and linings, stitching and clasps, shape and scale. Hundreds of ideas are then edited down to make each season's collection of stylish bags that will give you an instant fashion-fix with the promise that they'll still be looking great in years to come.
How important is it to have celebrities endorsing your brand?
I've always had a very distinguished clientele, from royalty to stars of stage, screen, music and the arts through to people who are at the top of their business profession. That's very heartening but I truly value discretion. If you believe, as I do, that style is eternal, then you'll go your own way in life, be original, have fun and not follow others. I think these are all qualities that people who wear OSPREY LONDON would recognise in themselves. It's not just the bag you choose that says something about you but the way you wear it and mix it with other pieces that is the mark of true style.