When Douglas Riddle wanted to create an eye-catching, edgy look for the Best Dressed of Louisville Presented by Churchill Downs, the Best Dressed Creative Director turned to the same leather craftsmen who have worked with such celebrities as Orlando Bloom and Alan Jackson.
Riddle didn’t have to travel far to accomplish the feat, though. He simply headed down to 1601 Bardstown Road, to The Leatherhead, owned by Nick Boone and his wife, Lynn. We sat down with Nick to talk about the success of his 33-year-old business and his and Lynn’s involvement in The Voice-Tribune’s Best Dressed of Louisville Presented by Churchill Downs.
Is it true you’ve been working with leather since you were 5 years old?
Yes. I just picked it up as a hobby. I needed a harness and there was nobody around to make it, so I took an old set of harnesses and made a new set for my goat. And that’s how I started. I read everything I could read and experimented with every piece of leather there was, and I found out how it was tanned and why it was tanned for individual things like belt leather and coat leather. There’s about 175 different degrees of leather that you could use, and all of them are for a particular purpose.
What inspired you to start this store?
I used to be an accountant. And I basically had to take the test to be a CPA, but I thought if I passed the test, I would be behind a desk for the rest of my life, and I like working with my hands. The people in Louisville have been very supportive of us. They think we kind of look weird occasionally. We don’t have a real flamboyant store, but people love it. They seem to get an easier feeling when they come here than when they shop at a place that’s more bar-coded. They can’t bar code me. I just listen to them, and they tell me what they need, and we go from there.
What do you mean by bar-coded?
I never know what people are going to ask me, so I’m not strategically planning for each little entity they tell me they want. Take Douglas (Riddle) for instance. He’s a very influential designer. We were honored that he would choose us to help him out on this runway project (for Best Dressed). We’ve done four items, which you’ll see if you go to the show. It will be a little bit striking at first. It will be very similar to Alexander McQueen, but we’re bringing it to Louisville instead of France.
Has Lynn been working at the store since its start?
We’ve been working together since about 1982. She actually is the one who runs the business. She screens telephone calls, and she knows who to invite in and how serious they are. And she’s hell on telemarketers. She’s been my inspiration, and she allows me the time to sit down and think about what I’m doing because there’s an extreme amount of retail pressure here. She allocates me the time to sit down and do the design work. If I had to take care of this (alone) full time, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to work with people like Douglas. People love her and trust her, and she’s very educated in what she does, and she gives people product that puts me to shame.
What’s one leather item that’s been popular here lately?
Lucchese boots are a staple here. Everybody wears them.
What’s one leather item everyone should own?
Boots. Everybody should have a pair of boots. Everybody should have a good handmade belt because a good handmade belt will last you 20 some-odd years whereas the commercial belts don’t hold up.
What about leather pants? Is that for everyone?
No, they’re not for everybody. Motorcyclists will wear leather pants if they’re riding a lot, but a lot of people wear chaps because they’re easier.
Have you ever had any crazy requests for custom work?
Oh yeah. I’ve had a lot of crazy requests. Everything from boots for Darth Vader. We do a lot with costumes. We do a lot with the regular person and the businessperson.
Have you ever said no to any requests?
I have said no to some requests. If it’s something that I think that I can’t give a good result on or it would be totally impractical for the time spent on the item to make it look professional, then I deny it. It hits me instantly if it’s going to turn out right or wrong. We have a lot of repeat customers because they like what they get, and they’ll tell their friends and their friends like what they get.
And, we don’t advertise. We just let word of mouth do the advertising, and we try to invent things that help society, like our latest is the guitar strap. It doesn’t irritate the trap muscles. And we don’t advertise that; we let the musicians advertise it for us.
You’ve had a lot of famous guests shop at the store. How do you think you accomplished that without any advertising?
Well, a lot of it has to do with our personality. A lot of it has to do with our quality. A lot of it has to do with Lynn. People talk amongst themselves and ask each other, “Where’s a nice place in Louisville to get this or that?’ And usually 99 percent of them say Leatherhead.”
You have a lot of photos of celebrities who have visited here hanging on the walls. Who all has been here?
Oh my God. Just on and on and on and on. On the next room I’ve got a whole lot hanging up too. We’ve got everybody from Bill Monroe to Alan Jackson to The Black Keys.
Have you ever been star struck by one of your customers?
We are somewhat star struck. You see someone come in, and they look familiar and you wonder, “Should I know them?” We get people in that look familiar, but you don’t really place them because they’re out of character. After they leave, the neighbors will come in and say, “Did you know who was in your store?” And I’ll say, “Well, no. Who was in our store?”
What do you hope The Leatherhead’s legacy will become?
I guess the basic thing after our tenure is up and I’m 100 years old, then I hope to see my products sell for an expensive price. I don’t know how else to put it, but if you’re still alive and you see your product somewhere selling for a substantial sum and it’s still around, then you have your stamp on it. That would be a feather in my hat. That’s what I strive for – to make (products) last as long as the damn thing will last.
The Leatherhead is open Monday-Friday, 11:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. For information, visit www.theleatherhead.com.
Category: The Spotlight
About the Author (Author Profile)
Ashley spends half her time writing stories at The Voice-Tribune office and half her time out on the town conducting interviews, while occasionally dressing in wild outfits to fully immerse herself in the experience (aka Princess Leia at Comic Con). Ashley is a huge UofL fan and loves the Yankees and the Boston Celtics (she is fully aware of the irony). She hopes to one day outshine Erin Andrews on ESPN and enjoys running, Bardstown Road/Fourth Street, Breaking Bad and reality TV (she’s not ashamed to admit that).