The story goes that the first leather pig came into being almost by accident when ‘Old Bill’, who worked making hand luggage for the department store Liberty of London in the 1930s, wondered what could be done with leftover leather. He came up with the idea of a footstool in the shape of a pig which he offered to Libertys.
Dimitri Omersa and his wife Inge came to England in 1955 and settled at Lavender Croft, a sanctuary for refugees, in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Dimitri Omersa, a Yugoslav by birth, had been a naval officer and a political prisoner imprisoned by Tito for 10 years after the second world war.
Dimitri Omersa found work in the leather trade and whilst representing a small leather company in Hitchin met ‘Old Bill’ at Liberty’s. ‘Old Bill’ was due to retire and a deal was struck for Dimitri Omersa to take over the business and continue the supply of pigs to Liberty’s.
The brand name Omersa was established at this point. The business was re located to Hitchin in 1958 and before long Dimitri Omersa had ideas for other animals.
His first new piece was an elephant, followed by the donkey and rhinoceros. Initially, Liberty’s were sceptical of the rhino but it became a “best seller” and subsequently formed the Omersa logo.
Hunt Leather first brought these beautiful pieces to Australia in the 1970s. We’ve since sent them all over the country, for gifts, footstools, wedding presents, special birthdays, and of course for collectors.
Omersa animals are still handmade to order in Lincolnshire, England, by a team of artisans.
The handcrafted leather animals are made from full grain Cowhide leather – hides that have never been buffed or sanded, retaining the natural beauty and unique character of the skins. They do not hide the scars and wrinkles in the leather and aim to use the markings on our animals where they feel appropriate.
Omersa use whole hides of approx 50sq feet and mark out the pattern for an animal from the same skin to ensure consistency of texture, strength, and markings. As no two skins are completely alike, each animal will have individual markings that add to its character. The differences in texture/strength from one skin to another also explains how the size of an animal can vary quite considerably despite coming from the same original pattern.
Once a hide has been marked out, the patterns are cut out and passed to the highly experienced machinists for sewing. The animals are “left open” along the backbone; this is where they insert the metal and wooden frame which gives the product structure and strength.
Woodwool is used to create the features of the animal. It is packed into the body cavity around a wooden and metal frame using an array of homemade tools. Woodwool is a natural product made from planed pine trees. Typically, it is sourced from Europe where there are extensive woodlands and replanting programs in place.
Assembly is the longest process in the production cycle and requires extensive in-house training. It is physically demanding and requires an eye for detail along with patience and perseverance. The leather does not always behave in the way we would like it to and experience is needed to understand how to work it.
The animal is finished off by hand stitching along the “backbone” starting from the head end and finishing under the tail. You will see from close inspection that the stitching along the backbone is more open than other seams and this is due to the hand stitching process.
STAINING AND POLISHING
Omersa’s leather is initially coloured a mid-brown using aniline or semi-aniline treatment in which dye is soaked deep into the pores of the leather and the surface left unfinished. This differs from most leathers which are coloured using a process called pigmenting where a synthetic layer of colour is applied directly to the top of the skin giving the leather an even “flat” colour. This process masks all of the natural markings on the hide and removes the character of the leather.
Omersa want their animals to look natural and age with time and wear and tear.
After the assembly process each animal is hand-stained mahogany brown with their own long-standing recipe using a water-based stain. This is followed by several coats of Nikwax Waterproofing Wax to seal the stain and nourish the leather. This wax can be buffed up to give the animals a lovely shine and is recommended to keep your animal in good condition.
Because the colour is within the leather, the leather’s colouring will continue to develop and transform as the leather ages developing a lovely patina of its own.