In 1892 David Lewis Isaacs established a gentlemen’s outfitters at 124 Great Portland Street, trading under the name ‘D Lewis’.
The business might have taken a more conventional sartorial direction if Mr Isaacs had chosen some other thoroughfare but Great Portland Street was soon to become Showroom Central for the nascent autocar industry. Benz Motors opened premises here in 1908 and within five years another 21 motor manufacturers were displaying their vehicles along the length of the street. In those days almost all cars were open-topped – and motorists needed protection from the elements. D Lewis accordingly began to specialise in coats, gloves, goggles and headgear for drivers.
By the 1930s the company was making leatherwear for motorists, motorcyclists and aviators at a factory in Lancashire and had trademarked the brand name ‘Aviakit’ for its range of flying suits and accessories. When private aviators were grounded during the Second World War and petrol rationing restricted private motoring, D Lewis survived by making clothing for the RAF.
From the mid-1950s D Lewis rode the wave of the new motorcycle culture. British teenagers aspired to the American ‘outlaw biker’ look and company launched a series of short-bodied leather jackets – of which the Bronx has been the most enduring style.
Punk fashion brought Lewis Leathers to the attention of a new generation in the late 1970s, when Sid Vicious, Joe Strummer, Chrissie Hynde, Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone were among the luminaries photographed sporting the company’s leather jackets.
“His clothes hang from mismatch iron coat hooks screwed at precise intervals along the wall. The girl wears his jacket. Lewis Leathers. Great Portland Street. She asks where that is. Jacket older than she is.”
William Gibson, Skinner’s Room, 1990
The business remained in the Isaacs family until 1980, since when it has changed hands three times. The Great Portland Street store closed in 1993, after which Lewis Leathers sold its clothes, boots and accessories via mail order and through a handful of appointed stockists in the UK, the USA and Japan.
Present proprietor Derek Harris bought the business in 2003 and restored the business’s retail presence – initially in Paddington, then relocating to Whitfield Street, a few blocks east of Great Portland Street. Harris isn’t a front-man for some anonymous investment house but a true enthusiast who’s been a Lewis customer for most of his adult life. He worked with then-owner Richard Lyon on reintroducing classic styles in the 1990s – primarily at that time for the Japanese market.