Dooney & Bourke started in 1975 when Peter Dooney & Frederic Bourke launched their namesake in South Norwalk, Connecticut. They started off with two notable introductory products: surcingle belts which were widely popular due to their unique, vibrant colors and stripes and classic suspenders, which experienced a surge in popularity thanks to the film "Chariots of Fire".
In 1981 Dooney & Bourke branched out into the handbag business with the release of the Tack Case and the Equestrian Bag both made from bridle leather. Along with their original distributors such as Nordstrom, Brooks Brothers, and Saks Fifth Avenue, they opened The Company Store in Norwalk, Ct, which sold among other things, Dooney & Bourke Merchandise.
In 1983, with the development of their famous All Weather Leather, the first AWL handbag collection was released featuring the unmistakable duck logo with the russet leather trim.
HANDBAGS ADDED: 1982
While the design of whimsical suspenders provided some diversion for Peter Dooney and his team, the designing of leather belts grew tedious and, like Coach, they naturally turned their attention to the production of leather women's handbags in 1982. Initially Dooney & Bourke relied on a hard English bridle leather in making the bags but soon came across an "all-weather leather," the use of which set Dooney bags apart from the competition and forged the young company's reputation.
The all-weather leather was a shrunken leather produced in a gradual, painstaking process, made from the skins of dairy cows¡ªnot cattle raised for beef¡ªbecause the animals were kept mostly indoors, resulting in a higher-quality skin. Craftsmen in Denmark and Norway, and to a lesser extent in other parts of Scandinavia, specialized in making the shrunken leather. The bags produced from the material was not only waterproof but also stain resistant, and if cared for properly might outlast the owner.
As Dooney built up its handbag business, it would consume about 90 percent of the shrunken leather produced in the world each year. The leather was then fashioned into bags at the company's 80,000-square-foot factory in Norwalk. Handles and other details were made by a pair of small Puerto Rico factories and shipped to Connecticut. Dooney aimed for a classic look, one that defied changing tastes in fashion. With hand stitching and solid brass hardware, the bags were aimed at a more upscale market than Coach. In keeping with this approach, Dooney elected not to operate a midtown Manhattan showroom where accessory companies were typically located. Instead the company went uptown to Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, just shy of Central Park. As Peter Dooney explained to WWD, "We are not typical in that we do not change our line every season to follow the fashion trends¡ªour collection is classic. We don't care what the rest of the market is doing."
In 1987 the company added a line of "cavalry bags," inspired by the look of military bags, as well as small leather goods and diaries, all using shrunken leather. Dooney elected not to sell to stores unless they carried the company's full line of products. All told, some 3,500 department stores and specialty stores offered the complete line, including such retailers as Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom. Limiting distribution was part of a strategy to create an air of exclusivity around the brand, an approach that served the company well. If anything, Dooney had a problem in keeping up with demand for its products. Not only was the all-weather leather a scarce commodity, the company had difficulty finding skilled factory workers in the affluent Norwalk area, and Peter Dooney made it clear that he would not take production overseas. "If I was forced to produce overseas I would close the company," he told WWD. "The fun of the business is seeing things made and solving production problems. It's a real hands-on business."