Monday, March 10, 2008

Smell that Leather

NEW YORK — It was 1983, at Los Angeles’s incarnation of the MAGIC show, when Joe Nadav first laid eyes on Pelle Pelle. “This guy was selling turquoise and lime green leather jackets,” recalls the owner of Philadelphia’s preeminent streetwear specialty chain City Blue. “I never saw those colors in a leather jacket before!” At $275 a pop wholesale, Nadav was taking an expensive chance on an unknown label. But just two days after his first five leathers arrived at the store—before Nadav had even paid the bill for the jackets—“they sold out,” he says. “The market had never seen anything like it!” Fast forward to 2008: Pelle Pelle last month celebrated its 30th anniversary—an incredible feat in a young men’s urban market that rarely tolerates brands for more than a handful of seasons. “You can’t fool our customer,” says Pelle Pelle founder Marc Buchanan. “You either get their approval or you don’t. It’s an honor to have gotten that approval from our customer for 30 years.” It certainly is an anomaly to survive the often-tumultuous young men’s market—even for many of the brands, like Pelle Pelle, that helped found the industry decades ago. Labels such as Cross Colours, Karl Kani and Fubu made their mark, then disappeared, at least from the mainstream eye. But Pelle Pelle’s bread and butter—Marc Buchanan’s luxurious leathers—have earned the brand a niche audience, and one that won’t buy leather from anyone else. Buchanan was already a seasoned leather veteran when he founded Pelle Pelle; in 1971, he created the leatherwear firm Gandolf & Co., and sold it five years later. After toiling as a consultant for several years, Buchanan recognized a gap in the market for what he describes as “high fashion” in the leather business, “at an affordable price.”

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