Interview with Mark Lightfoot, owner of Cavesson’s London, Luxury Leather Goods.
Mark worked with Katherine Pogson on an intensive tailored training programme in February 2015, and launched his luxury leathergoods company earlier this year.
How did you come to the idea of setting up Cavesson’s?
About 2 years ago I happened to be travelling through Heathrow. I had on a leather belt and going through security I realised that I did not need to take it off - as I had a detachable metal buckle. It got me thinking about products for the business traveller; high quality, with a real design touch. You know how these things can snowball.
The idea stuck in my mind, and I kept turning it over. I amassed a huge cache of data about travel retail, luxury leather goods production and history … in time I developed a business concept for an entire product range. I became obsessed with the idea, became obsessed with leather.
What was your background before you started the company?
I trained as a graphic designer, joined an advertising agency and then started my own design company at the end of 1997, but I did many different things at college enjoying anything that was hands-on. The computer changed all that. Yes, you can do amazing things with a Mac… but it doesn’t have a smell, it’s not tactile. It doesn’t give, or talk to you like materials do. There’s a far deeper connection, something spiritual, about working with physical materials.
I’ve worked in design and visual communications all my life, so when it came to the idea for Cavesson’s, well I had all the communications and branding side of things covered as well as a lot of business experience.
How did you come across Designer Courses?
Google! I was looking for someone I could work with to learn more about leather. I emailed, got a lovely response and it frankly just felt right. There were quite a few results in the Google search but Designer Courses looked special - I liked the simplicity of the website for one and Katherine sounded lovely. The one-to-one was a big attraction too.
What was it about Designer Courses that appealed to you?
The communication. From the first email contact it was clear I was dealing with someone professional. I liked the location too and I loved the pictures that I found online of the studio. It was conveniently located close to the tube. As far as my course was concerned, everything felt completely trustworthy. I was applying for a EU grant and had to supply all sorts of documentation! Katherine was exceedingly helpful.
How did you find the process of working one to one with Katherine?
This was really good. I was only able to do 3 days, so it was very intense. We had prepared the lesson plan over email, so we hit the ground running. I came with a lot of background reading done, and lots of questions.
I immediately warmed to Katherine, and felt extremely at ease. She is a great teacher and the environment in the studio is conducive. We had developed a bespoke program through discussion beforehand and I was very clear about what I wanted. I love working alone generally but I also love the collaboration and discussion that design needs. Time to think, time to share. We discussed influences and ideas. An easy back and forth that made the process of learning and teaching very fluid. I was enthusiastic, and I felt Katherine to be likewise.
What was the format of your sessions - how, where did they take place?
We did studio work, looking at tools, materials, stitching and threads. I got hands on with saddle stitching and punches, we played with the materials, in effect allowing me to discover how leather felt in the hand, how it gives when you stitch, the different types of leather suited to different requirements. I had brought of set of production samples with me from a prospective manufacturer - we decided that we would deconstruct one of the pieces as a starting point for the training.
We began by sketching out a rough pattern, measuring, and drawing up an outline. This was refined into a working pattern. I had to take into account the thickness of the leather, how it folded, how the lining would be combined, the sequence of construction; it was a puzzle! There’s a proper leather sewing machine in the studio and I got to use this too. It’s impossible initially but after a while I got the hang of it.
I had asked Katherine if we could visit some of the associated trades in London, so we went to see Walter Reginald - I remember heaving shelves and the rich aroma of leather - and the most extraordinary selection of garish patterned leather amongst what seemed like rare treasure, the bridle and calf from some of the finest tanneries in Europe. We also visited a small leather workshop with all the machines you could imagine stuffed into a space about the size of a 2 car garage. I was taken to see a fittings supplier in the East End, and it was all shiny buckles and clasps, full of fashion students buying PVC and plastic, Christopher-Bailey-studs and chains!
We made time for lunch each day and that was a great counterpoint to the lessons. We ate well - there’s some lovely cafes in the area around Livingstone Studios.
We also made time to walk around Sloane Street and then Mayfair, looking at some of the luxury leather goods stores. We lingered in Delvaux, Hermes, YSL… to get a sense of what was possible with leather in the sort of market I was aiming for. I had been around these stores many times before, but this time it was with a new point of view, it made me look at the various products in a new way - with a more critical eye.
What were you specifically hoping to learn from the experience?
I wanted an introduction to the world of leather. I wanted to work with it, understand from someone who’s life it was - to find a way in. There’s so many facets to leatherwork, I wanted to explore the potential. I was so excited and enthusiastic that it was great to have someone to share it with, and to have mentor me for a few days.
Did anything surprise you about the process - lead you in a new direction?
Definitely in regards to who I was manufacturing with, the design of my collection, the pieces, the target audience. Katherine asked lots of questions and challenged me to think more clearly, with more focus. I had just landed my angel funding so I knew that I was going to be working towards my goal of launching Cavesson’s, and this fact gave the course a very real focus. I think the biggest surprise was the design concepts I had previously worked on - they went out of the window! If I think about my first collection drafts, and what I launched with - that new direction, that came with help from Katherine.
How would you describe the teaching style?
Katherine’s teaching style is collaborative, and educative in the best possible way. She helped to draw out my natural skill and allowed me to see how I could use that. She made me aware of new things, helped me ask questions about my project, encouraged introspection, and also challenged me about some of my assumptions.