Skins In The Game
January 12, 2015
Text by John Torsiello
For more than three decades, New Milford’s Edelman Leather has been the go-to source for the exquisite leathers favored by the best interior designers near and far.
The scent of leather pervades the air, a sensory rush that washes over every part of the company, from headquarters to inspection, from shipping and receiving to the storage quarters. The omnipresent aroma is quite natural, because this is Edelman Leather, a New Milford–headquartered concern that is all about leather—luxury leather for the interior design industry, to be specific.
The seeds for today’s company were planted in the late 1940s when Theodora “Teddy” Joffe and Arthur Edelman met and fell in love. As young newlyweds, they joined Teddy’s family’s business, Fleming Joffe, a small company that specialized in selling exotic leathers to the fashion industry.
In the early 1960s, the soon-to-be pop-art icon Andy Warhol answered the company’s ad for a graphic designer. Warhol and Teddy and Arthur became fast friends, and thanks in part to Warhol’s skill and creativity, Fleming Joffe quickly became the fashion industry’s premier leather source. The small company captured the prestigious Coty American Fashion Critics’ Award in 1963 and the 1964–65 Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion. Today, a room in the headquarters is devoted to an exhibit that pays tribute to Warhol’s impact on the company’s early direction.
In 1981, Teddy and Arthur launched Edelman Leather, moving into the interior design industry to offer leather for upholstery and, eventually, adding furniture, rugs, and decorative accents to the mix.
They sold the business in 2007 to Knoll, which has continued the tradition of creating and selling the world’s finest luxury leathers to the world of interiors. “We work directly with our major customers—architects and designers—and our end user is the luxury market,” says Edelman president Amy Darrah. “These are people who want the best of the best.”
The 63,000-square-foot New Milford facility employs fifty-six people working on everything from tables and chairs to rugs, all designed and created using the company’s premium bull- and calf-hide leathers from Italy.
“Our leather is derived as a by-product of the food industry,” explains Darrah. “No animals are killed only for their hides. We source all of our leather from Italy. They don’t use barbed wire, they don’t brand, and the animals are kept in with wooden fences and cleaned and put in at night. This all contributes to the quality of leather.”
All of the hides are tanned in Italy with centuries-old techniques that use natural tanning agents. So-called vegetable tanning, using plants and tree bark, creates a resilient leather with a bit of heft. Chrome tanning, using fluid extracted from minerals, results in a lighter leather with a softer hand.
Some hides are dyed in Italy, although coloring and finishing are often done at the company’s upstate New York plant. “Some hides are finished locally, as custom coloring is an Edelman standard, setting us apart from the competition,” says Darrah.
The Edelman line consists of more than eighty different types of leathers in more than 800 colorways, and all are Greenguard indoor air-quality certified. The company can custom color any product one hide at a time for designers. One key to Edelman’s success, says Darrah, is the staff’s dedication to creating new colors, textures, and styles of leather. Often, the inspiration for Edelman’s leather colors and patterns is derived from the travels and life experiences of the people who work there.
Edelman has nine showrooms in the U.S., and is represented in showrooms in every major U.S. city as well as in Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Turkey, the Middle East, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. A tenth showroom, in London, opened recently. “It’s been fantastic,” says Darrah, “and really brought its own new energy in a new marketplace.”
Still, New Milford will always be Edelman Leather’s home. “We have a strong knowledge base, the people and the resources we need, and being on the East Coast works well for us,” Darrah says. “And it’s where our roots are.” •