R. Horn´s Wien

Leather craftsmen at work – a visit to R. Horn’s Wien

As I peered in the windows of the new R. Horn’s shop on Vienna’s Herrengasse recently and the beautiful bags made me think about Christmas, I decided to visit the workshop.

I feel a pleasant tickle in my nose from the smell of fine leather that the employees no longer notice of after so many years. The shelves are filled with countless neatly rolled colorful leather hides – I want to touch them and feel the quality. I can hear the leather sewing machine in the next room – where individual pieces are brought together to create the beautiful products and outfitted with eyelets, snaps, and clasps. This is also where they are marked with the embossing stamp, the brand logo.

Julian Horn, son of the company founder Robert Horn, introduces me to the employees and explains the individual production steps.
The designs and ideas come from the boss, Robert Horn, or from customers who can have their very own dream bag made. However, bags are not the only products being made – by now there are around 100 different small leather goods that fill the colorful portfolio and are very popular in German speaking countries but also in the US and the Far East.

It all started in the early 80s, when Robert Horn – a man of many talents and interests – was searching for his own special niche and found it in leather accessories for men. A photo from the 1920s of Thomas Mann holding a briefcase in his hand was the inspiration for a bag that has now become an R. Horn’s classic. Another famous man of that time – Sigmund Freud – also plays a role; “his” glasses case is still made here by hand and embossed with a special stamp.

While the first collection was cognac colored, the range of colors has grown considerably over the years – this year, for instance, there were bags and accessories in bright yellow and cool mint.
The designs generally follow a classic pattern from the days of the Wiener Werkstätte and designers such as Adolf Loos and Josef Hoffmann with a clear, straightforward design vocabulary and special functional details. They never chase short-lived trends; here the focus is on designing products that develop a beautiful feel over the years and become favorites of their owners. That is also why they don’t need loud advertising – word of the outstanding quality gets around quickly among aficionados.

From A for accessories to Z for zippered wallet – with a selection of over 100 products, you are guaranteed to find a treasure at R. Horn’s.
Naturally I am interested in how the new designs are executed and am surprised to find out: “My father sometimes comes into the workshop in the morning with an idea, then a plan is discussed and in the afternoon we usually have the first prototypes. The design is perfected and a few days later there are already samples in the shops. This is when we get immediate feedback from the customers – do they like it or not. A few pieces never really took off – most of them went into production.”

Hats off – it is great when a manufacturer handles everything from the idea to the material, the actual craft, and all the way to sale. You have to be able to rely on the employees and their attention to detail, of course – the quality standard is high. You can see it in the details of R. Horn’s products, like the Wiener Einschlag where the leather is tucked inward, glued, and then sewn – as a result, there are no open edges. They are proud to practice a sophisticated craft – the products last for up to 20 years and are well loved by customers. It goes without saying that repairs are handled in house – a service that also includes good professional advice on care.

The employees in the workshop understand their craft – they have been doing it for a long time and know exactly what matters with each product. I ask whether there is a training program in Vienna for this craft. Technically, the trade is now called leather craftsman and bag maker– in Vienna there is a three-year program on Ungargasse in the 3rd district that trainees finish as a journeyman. There are only a few companies in Vienna that handle the manufacturing themselves and thus keep the craft alive.

R. Horn’s Wien has grown organically as a company. Today the leather goods are sold in four shops in the first district – the Herrengasse shop opened in the beginning of November. A lot of tourists stop in here. Some come into the shop deliberately, because they love the products and have already purchased them online. Actually being there is, however, much more inspiring than virtual shopping – you can look at the products in natural light, get professional advice, and if you are lucky, one of the Horns might also be present.

I say goodbye to the leather specialists and leave the workshop very impressed.
Probably all the customers feel like I do – the quality of products from R. Horn’s Wien is definitely worth the walk to one of the shops, at any time of the year.