The story of Launer is as illustrious as its fine leather goods. It is a celebration of heritage that spans more than 70 glorious years of crafting exquisite goods.
ORIGINS – 1940’s
Founded in the 1940’s by Sam Launer who had fled Czechoslovakia with his wife and two sons. The sons pursued other paths – one with the RAF and the other in agriculture . Meanwhile Sam leased a small workshop in the heart of Soho making handbags. Sam’s philosophy was to make exceptional product crafted in the very best way using the finest leathers. The style of the day required a formal, structured shape and so it was that Launer built a reputation for fine leather goods, despite the restrictions imposed by the ongoing war.
These exceptional bags soon became favoured and the accessory of choice by the elite of the day including Royalty, Society and Ambassadors. As the war ended, things became easier and at this time Freddie, the younger son joined the firm. The elder son had been killed in action during the war.
Launer began to supply the leading stores in London. Its quality was greatly admired and proved a magnet for skilled craftspeople. These skills had often been acquired overseas and their input gave the brand a unique international dimension which it retained for many years.
Sam Launer died in 1955 and son Freddie was left with a potentially vibrant business and group of loyal employees. By now Launer’s exceptional expertise in making exquisite leather handbags was being used for other companies, one being Gucci. This became the company’s main source of business as it became apparent there was a lack of marketing expertise in promoting the Launer name. They still continued at this stage to stock Harrods and other leading stores with Launer product.
By now HM the Queen was a regular customer directly and indirectly – Launer made matching handbags for HM Rayne who held the Royal Warrant as a shoe manufacturer. They also produced for another maker and when this ceased to trade, Launer applied successfully for the Royal Warrant.
These were the chapters of decline in the Launer story. Despite its excellent reputation as a manufacturer, the company had neglected to stay abreast of the times. Without the benefit of marketing and a vision to move forward, the company had become dependent on its survival on existing customers and had failed to promote its own name. It would indeed have gone by the wayside and sought a buyer as a survival option.
Launer was rescued from extinction in 1981 by Gerald Bodmer, a successful businessman who had two decades of experience in the gifts and leather goods business. His started his own company in 1968 and by 1970 had begun handbag manufacturing in Shoreditch supplying bags for Russell and Bromley, Bally and Mappin and Webb.
Gerald is the first to acknowledge that rescuing Launer was an ‘act of faith’. It was in a sorry way, it had financial difficulties, lacked management, no own label presence and existed primarily as a sub-contractor. It was in real danger of sliding into obscurity.
Investment of time and money to modernise production and the Launer name was required along with a vision; Gerald Bodmer had that vision. Whilst other brands flocked abroad to manufacture for economic reasons, Launer steadfastly remained loyal to British manufacturing and maintained its Walsall factory despite all signs indicating this was to be an uphill challenge.
He worked tirelessly in promoting the brand and keeping its assets intact. The collection changed but the distinctive Launer signature look was kept. The process of reinvigorating the Launer brand had begun. HM the Queen favoured Launer over any other brand and continued carrying Launer at each and every public and state occasion.
Launer was now firmly back at the top of its league, through its marketing strategy, established as a luxury brand of distinction with international dignitaries and royalty choosing Launer as the accessory for state and public functions. Under the guidance of Gerald and his wife Susan, with a significant tactics was introduced, all product would bear the name of Launer which would once again come become associated with luxury, aspiration and a celebration of understated fine leather goods.
Premier department stores once again stocked Launer both in the UK and globally.
The market had shifted and the culture was now about catwalk designers producing handbag collections. In this climate Launer was viewed as traditional with its department store clients preferring a concession led option and any buying space reserved for the catwalk designers of the day.
Times were challenging and Launer was resigned to becoming a brand of the past.
With the advent of the internet the company sought to launch a web based business that could serve the customer needs directly and so in 2009, Launer.com was launched.
Launer began to gather momentum with its web based presence with small leather goods the most popular items.
With positive feedback it became apparent that Launer had a viable presence in the current luxury landscape. The collection was a homage to black and brown and took a momentous decision; It would take its best selling hero bag, the Traviata and celebrate the iconic design by interpreting into stunning bright colours.
At the same time 2011, HM The Queen carried a Launer bag at the wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton.
Something of a phenomenon occurred. The website crashed with the demand of consumers wanting to find out more about this heritage brand that adorned HM The Queen. Very soon it became known that the Launer website had received unprecedented traffic with the result that it went viral. From the USA to New Zealand everyone wanted to know about the British brand that had been making exquisite handbags since the 1940’s.
With its colour injection and increased profile it became the hottest brand to be featured in luxury magazines with column inches dedicated to its fascinating legacy and association with The Queen. From Vogue, Tatler, Financial Times to the Daily Telegraph they all wanted to embrace Launer products and explore the story behind this British institution.
Launer became one of the most feted brands stocked by Selfridges and Fortnum and Mason and appeared on Broadway in the award winning play Her Majesty with Helen Mirren. The distinctive Launer bag has featured in other prominent films, stage plays and in exhibitions.
The appeal of Launer transcends fashion and has become a legacy of great British craftmanship and enduring global appeal.