Journal of authenticity

The blue-eyed barbarian travels the world to meet some of the most authentic small businesses and brands. His aim is to collect and share their experiece with the ones who are only on the beginning of the road.

Story #4. Revival of the iconic leather business from Copenhagen, Dahlman1807

Words by the blue-eyed barbarian. Images courtesy of Dahlman1807

 
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The oldest leather brand in Denmark is famous for working for Royal stables and multiple collaborations with architects of the golden age of Danish design. After 210-year old history the founders give way to a new generations and it faces a challenge to guide the business into a new millenia.

 
 

The Copenhagenization of 1807

The history of the brand Dahlman is tightly knit with the history of Denmark itself. During the Napoleonic wars Denmark had one of the largest fleets in Europe and was neutral. The British were too afraid that Napoleon could use Danish fleet against Great Britain and so they decided to subdue it. In 1807 they assembled a force of 30000 troops, launched 300 rockets, which caused massive fires in the Copenhagen. The surrender was quick.

The attack gave rise to the term “to Copenhagenize”: a terror bombardment by a foreign power on a civilian target with no military objective.

During the attack 195 civilians died and 768 were injured. Over a thousand buildings burnt. The port district suffered the most. The district that had concentrated nearly all saddle-makers and leather craftsmen of Copenhagen. This was a devastating tragedy for many but this also was a time when Wilhelm Ludvig Dahlman founded his saddlery workshop.

Copenhagen on fire, painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg

Copenhagen on fire, painted by Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg

 
 
Dahlman’s saddle workshop, 1889

Dahlman’s saddle workshop, 1889

 

Dahlman’s 1807-2017

 
Dahlman’s, 1975

Dahlman’s, 1975

Dahlman is now the oldest saddlemaker in Denmark. Being owned by Dahlman family and then by the family of an employee Hendriksen saddlery provides most of the riding schools in Denmark with essential leather equipment. They also have been making belts featuring the saumur hoor closure, used before only for horse harnesses.

The belt was known as "the Architect Belt" because it was very popular amongst some of the great Danish architects such as Arne Jacobsen and Børge Mogensen in the 1950's and 60's.

The belt is part of the Danish Arts Foundations collection of Danish Arts and Crafts as well as a part of Danish Design Museum's collection of Danish Design Classics.

 

This belt was originally only made in tan, but this changed when Arne Jacobsen ordered a special black version for dress and evening occasions.

Your belts are pretty cool but I would rather prefer a more formal option in black.
— a hypothetical replica of Arne Jacobsen

Other designers wanted the same belt after that. So the "architect belt" has become a piece of Danish design history.

 

Working together with designers and architects

 

Dahlman also worked with designers to make leather parts for their objects in 1950’s and 60’s.

Børge Mogensen’s famous hunting chair, circa 1958

Børge Mogensen’s famous hunting chair, circa 1958

 
Produced by cabinetmaker Willy Beck and leatherwork by Dahlman saddlers, Denmark. Circa 1959

Produced by cabinetmaker Willy Beck and leatherwork by Dahlman saddlers, Denmark. Circa 1959

'Fireplace Chair', designed by Ole Gjerløv-Knudsen (1930-2009), circa 1959. Produced by master saddle maker Willy Hendriksen at Brdr. F. & L. Dahlmans Eftr.

'Fireplace Chair', designed by Ole Gjerløv-Knudsen (1930-2009), circa 1959. Produced by master saddle maker Willy Hendriksen at Brdr. F. & L. Dahlmans Eftr.

Designers Erik Herløw and Poul Kühl came to Erik Hendriksen to ask for making these sandals which became well-known in designer’s circles.

Designers Erik Herløw and Poul Kühl came to Erik Hendriksen to ask for making these sandals which became well-known in designer’s circles.

 

Retirement

 
 
 
Picture by monocle.com

Picture by monocle.com

As offers from superstar architects flood in, the brothers are adamant they won’t expand. “We don’t have the time or resources to train new employees – so, by the time we retire, there will be no one to take over.” Head to Copenhagen and buy into two centuries of history while you still can. The brothers will be waiting, but for how long?
— Monocle Magazine, May 2007
 

10 years after Monocle’s article was published we headed to Dahlman workshop in Copenhagen. From the street, we saw a time-worn sign and a mess inside. Right in the window, there was a working table with many leather cuts scattered and a young man working on a belt. We thought the business was already closed and the last work is being done right now.

 
 

When we entered we asked about Eric and Frank Hendriksen, two brothers that run this business from 1959.

They are well into their 70’s and already retired. I’m one of the new owners actually. Sorry for the mess, we are making a renovation here
— said Jeppe Dencker

He is the one who knew Hendriksen brothers for years and had found common ground with them to take over the business.

 
 

The takeover

We are now finally ready to reveal what we’ve been working on for so long. We have taken over Dahlman, the world’s oldest leather goods company, with an amazing history dating back to 1807. For the past five months we’ve been renovating their beautiful shop right in the centre of Copenhagen and on November 10th we will re-open under the name Dahlman1807. It’s an absolute honour and privilege to be able to continue 210 years of passion and craftsmanship - And I can’t wait to get started!
— Jeppe Dencker's Instagram, 19 Oct 2017
 

Keeping the heritage

Dencker used to have his own leather brand for 7 years. He came frequently to this house owned by The Saddler Guild from 1460. Gradually he became very acquainted with the brothers. They have been talking for years and when the time has come for them to retire they wanted to give this business to Dencker although they were offered much more money from others.

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Many brands in this market can be snobbish but Dencker is working to create a more friendly and inclusive space. He wants people to see the craftsmanship. On the second floor, there will be a cashier desk and a room with two more tables for craftsmen. The wall of that room will be made from glass so when people can see again how much work and time are needed to make a bag or a belt.

 
We also decided to get a working table from the back of the workshop to its front. I want people to see how much work we put here, I want people to come inside and explore the store themselves
— JD
 

Restoring the glory

Dencker showed us the place still being on a renovation stage. “The first floor will be the actual workshop with us working. Guests will be welcome to check in and then get to the shop on the second floor. This place hasn’t been renovated since the 1930s but Dencker's team found old pictures of the shop when the brothers have just moved in and restore it to that condition. The floors and the railings are new though.” - JD

 
 
I think when you don’t use the heritage and just buy new things instead you lose a lot. We contacted the Danish national museum and they sent a guy who renovated all these cabinets.
— JD
 

New product strategy

Product strategy is to focus on consumer goods as opposed to supplying riding schools. In addition to belts, Dencker is going to revive Dahlman bags. Just like belts, they will are put in a premium category but not extravagantly luxurious. He doesn’t want to make products overpriced or hard-to-buy.

 
 

Slow is good

There are only 3 people who make products and they all work in a headquarters shop. In order to scale business Dahlman will slowly start production in another location in Italy. It took almost a year to find the right people in Tuscany. They are good friends with Dahlman’s vegetable leather tannery partners.

 

At first, people can only buy products in Copenhagen workshop. Later Dahlman is going launch its own webshop and start sales in a few selected shops worldwide as soon as Italian partners slowly start setting up the production.

 
 
The marketing budget is zero. In Denmark, it’s easier to get your story out. I’ve been doing this for 7 years so I know exactly who to call. So we think that before the opening there’s going to be 3 articles in the biggest Danish newspapers. And that’s pretty much it.
— JD
 
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The blue-eyed barbarian explores authentic businesses worldwide, documents their success stories in this Journal of Authenticity and spreads the most fruitful practices in regard to business development, communications, and creative solutions. Here's more stories that you might like:


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