Jose Urrutia’s passion for timeless pieces is not accidental. It is inextricably linked to his early childhood memories, as he recalls a magnificent lion rug lying at his grandparents’ house.
The rug was a gift from Ernest Hemingway, and was in fact the writer’s own African kill:
“When I asked my grandmother how she met Hemingway, she showed me a photo album of a boat trip that they had shared between Plymouth and Bombay dated 1933, complete with a signed photo of the author kneeling next to the animal on an African plain.
It’s an incredible record of a time when travel was seen as a life experience rather than the quickest way from A to B.
The album inspired us to create a collection of travel bags and accessories that would recapture that spirit of adventurous travel,” he says.
Craftsmanship and authenticity in every stitch
Urrutia is clearly very proud of his company’s Spanish roots: “The lifestyle, the sunshine, the traditions, the values — the spirit of Spain shines through in everything we do. We are passionately inspired by our Iberian heritage and we wear the ‘Made in Spain’ label with pride.”
All of the La Portegna goods are handcrafted in Spain, with their shoes being produced in Alicante, and their bags and small leather goods being made in a village called Ubrique, in the Cadiz province of Andalucia. One of the country’s most picturesque pueblos blancos (white villages), Ubrique’s distinctive architecture reflects its diverse Roman and Moorish influences.
The village has been internationally recognized since the 19th century for the quality of its leather industry, and currently produces around 75% of the leather goods made in Spain.
A team of local craftspeople work alongside Urrutia, applying a combination of traditional and modern techniques to produce completely unique items:
“There is craftsmanship and authenticity in every stitch. That unmistakable human touch is the hallmark of our work. It imbues our design and our manufacturing, distinguishing each La Portegna product as a true original.”
The founder proudly describes the “unspoken beauty” transmitted by La Portegna goods, which combine classic design and the use of what he calls “noble” materials: “Leather, cotton, brass, wax. Good, honest natural materials are the foundations on which La Portegna is built.”
One of the premium materials used in all of the La Portegna pieces is full-grain Spanish leather tanned with an exclusive blend of natural tannins and colour compounds from Spanish flowers and tree bark. The leather is later treated with Spanish olive oil to make it soft to the touch and also more robust.
According to Urrutia, only the best tanneries can project “the visual power of leather”, and thus create the unique colour palettes we see in high-quality pieces:
"The leather tones should reflect both depth and uniformity. It should be firm but gracious — it must have what in Spanish we call ‘cuerpo’ (body)."
He adds, "Over time, you learn to appreciate high-quality leather by holding it in your hand and releasing it on a table. You can then observe if it has nice ‘cuerpo’. This test is critical, because it will allow you to predict how the leather will behave with use."
Simple, practical, and elegant
La Portegna has a flagship store in London’s Marylebone High Street, a neighbourhood famous for its independent boutiques selling premium goods.
The prices are displayed on the window, as Urrutia’s priority is to cultivate an honest relationship with his customers, who he playfully describes as those who "have seen it all, probably have it all, and can spot quality and value from a mile away."
The founder admits that he is very aware of the challenges of globalisation, with mass production keeping both prices and quality low: "Mass-produced brands have created a ‘buy and dispose’ culture, which is the opposite of our own culture of creating beautiful, long-lasting products."
He is nevertheless positive that there is a future for independent brands, especially with the internet allowing quality to be accessed worldwide.
"The beauty of craftsmanship is that it is immune to the forces of economies of scale. You cannot take any production shortcuts to make a beautiful handcrafted leather bag, and this simple fact will help us to defend ourselves from the onslaught of mass-scale producers," he says.
"Thanks to the internet, there has been a renaissance of independent producers of high-quality items, as it gives us the necessary tool to voice and project our values and vision globally."
The founder's long-term vision for his own brand is crystal-clear: "Simple, practical, and elegant — these are the qualities that run through La Portegna and will continue to unite every item we produce."
He adds, "It’s a magical combination — an alchemy that creates something unique to us that is so much greater than the sum of its parts."