LONDON, United Kingdom — Heritage fashion. It is a honourable title, but what does it mean? Of course heritage denotes age — to name check a few British brands, Burberry, Mulberry and Barbour are obvious examples. Quality is also a given, but honesty and endeavour are also integral to the heritage formula. Jose Urrutia is a Spanish-born entrepreneur who has these attributes in spades. He opened his boutique La Portegna on London’s chic Marylebone High Street early last year, introducing Londoners to his beautiful leather bags, shoes and accessories all handmade in Ubrique, in southern Spain.
Ubrique is a scenic mountain town in Cadiz, steeped in history and famed for its white-walled villas and highly skilled leather artisans. All the leathers are hand dyed with vegetable dyes to preserve the beauty of the material and limit the amount of pollutants to the environment.
“Our bags get better with age”, explains Jose.
You wear them and the leather changes colour and becomes more supple. A bag should not be stiff and unchanging, it should live through you and your travels and adventures.
This may sound like a romantic business proposition, especially if you are a Londoner, but it is an attitude to embrace. British high streets are becoming increasingly homogenised: the same shops with little to offer and even less to inspire. We need boutiques such as La Portegna to snap us out of this mindset and help us to think less prescriptively about fashion and the things we buy.
“Life is better slow”, is the mantra that Jose lives by and it explains why he champions a craft that honours the core values of quality and workmanship. It takes time to make each piece and every one is a labour of love overseen by La Portegna’s chief designer, the Ubrique artisans and of course, Jose himself. From the stonewashed canvas holdalls to the smoothly structured women’s bags, the simplicity of design bites back (albeit elegantly) against a tide of mass-produced accessories, all too often referred to as “throw away fashion”.
La Portegna A Lifestyle Brand
La Portegna also positions itself as an affordable brand, the idea being that luxury should not stand for elitist. Jose is exasperated by premium labels that cash in on their heritage:
The market is flooded with the mass-produced and the ultra luxurious. What makes my heart sink is when I see a so-called ‘It Bag’ with an outrageous price tag. I think to myself: this bag is bigger than my soul!
Jose is adamant that luxury should be defined by quality and durability. “A bag from La Portegna will last 10 years. It will take on its own personality through your journeys. We should expect our things to take shape and match our lives more than we do. For example, in the sun, our leathers become even more beautiful and rich in colour.”
Entrenched in Jose’s business model is the idea of travel and exploration: it is safe to say that La Portegna has identified itself as a lifestyle brand rather than just a straightforward accessories label. There is a strong connection to adventure and the outdoors in all of the designs, through both simplicity and functionality. In fact, the brand has just collaborated with Magnum photographer, Christopher Anderson, to create a limited edition camera bag. This aesthetic is also reflected in the look and feel of the boutique, thanks to a rich and honeyed interior. You can even smell the leather as you walk by, which is unusually evocative in London.
Look closely and you will find the clues that reveal Jose’s motivations for launching La Portegna four years ago. On one wall in the boutique, hang a few black and white photographs depicting a young woman on safari with a tall, strapping man — unmistakably Ernest Hemingway. Jose reveals that his Spanish grandmother was an intrepid traveller who befriended the great writer during a cruise from Plymouth to India.
“When you grow up listening to these amazing stories, it is impossible not to feel inspired and excited about travelling. Just like my grandmother, I love to visit new places and to absorb the colours of other cultures. It was following a trip to Argentina that I decided that I wanted to set up a business that resounded with a more free-spirited lifestyle. The beauty of travelling is that everyone can do it and I think La Portegna stands for luxury in an honest and open way.”
Interestingly, La Portegna has an affordable monogramming service on-site, Many premium brands including Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Smythson also offer this kind of personalisation, only at a much higher cost. But price is not the only glaring difference: adding your initials to a bag or wallet from La Portegna is less about self-affirmation and status, and more about signalling the start of your next adventure. Hemingway would certainly have approved.