Charles Pinnell discovered his true calling in a Colorado Springs moccasin shop in 1974 when he was 18 years old. “I stitched a two-inch strip of leather and knew that I had found my life’s work,” he says.
When he returned home to Newport News, Pinnell applied to be a shoemaker in Colonial Williamsburg and, as luck would have it, was hired as an apprentice in the harness shop where he soon gained a reputation for his artistry.
He opened Pinnell Custom Leather in 1977 and four years later relocated his shop to an old apple packing warehouse in the foothills of the Blue Ridge in Crozet. He has since built a following for his stunning custom leathers, quality craftsmanship and personable customer service.
At first, Pinnell focused on custom leather goods for equestrians, such as chaps, belts and bags. Over the years, he has added handbags, cuff bracelets and wristlets, watchbands, wallets and sporting accessories like shotgun sleeves, double speed bags, fast loader shell bags, field boxes and holsters.
But Pinnell’s work has transcended the sporting niche, and he has crafted leather goods for customers all over the world, including Olympians, politicians, actors, directors and even royalty. He also hand-forges buckles, designed and fabricated in-house in gold, silver and brass, and often incorporates gemstones like the emerald eyes set in a silver fox’s head.
“I love working with a customer,” says Pinnell. “They come to me with an idea. We sit down and talk through the design process. I draw a sketch, and they pick their leathers, findings and other details.” A sketch can morph into a $30,000 handbag created from American alligator and handmade silver fittings. Prices on custom designs vary depending on the materials and the detailing.
(written by Aynsley Miller Fisher)