Raised in Northampton – the centre of the British shoemaking industry – Bill Amberg was surrounded by the material throughout his childhood. His mother, an architect with a love of crafting, would pick up cobblers’ offcuts and scraps for him to practise on, so he became accustomed to handling knives, awls and needles from a young age.
When he left school, Bill travelled to Australia to visit his cousin Penny Amberg, a lecturer in leather design at Canberra School of Art. Through her, he met leatherworker Gay Wilson, who became his mentor. As an apprentice in her studio in Adelaide, Bill turned his hand to making jockey’s shoes, wallets and belts. His respect for the material – his understanding of its properties and possibilities – deepened in tandem with his skills.
Returning to London in 1985, Bill set up a leather studio – first in Rotherhithe, later moving to Shoreditch – where he created leather bags, accessories and sculpture. His reputation as a designer and craftsman soon spread to the likes of Liberty, who asked him to create a line of bags in English saddle leather, and Paul Smith, who invited him to create a line of Amberg-branded bags to be sold in his stores.
In the last 30 years, Bill Amberg has worked with a varied roster of clients across the twin strands of his practice (to put it crudely: ‘bags and buildings’). Bags and accessories bearing the Bill Amberg stamp are available from stockists worldwide and, alongside his own line, Bill has designed bags for labels including Donna Karan, Romeo Gigli, Dunhill and others. In 2001, the V&A admitted the Amberg ‘Rocket’ bag into its archive of design classics.
At the same time, Bill has brought leather into the interiors of iconic buildings such as Claridge's, Selfridges, the Shard and the Savoy, as well as consulting with renowned architects and interiors outfitters on its incorporation into prestige properties both commercial and residential. Today, he and his studio collaborate with companies and private clients on l eather-based interiors commissions for homes and hotels, stores and super yachts, restaurants, members’ clubs and public spaces all over the world.
Although the studio has grown to be much more than the man who founded it, Bill Amberg remains at the heart and helm of the company.