two rival companies have been on the scene since the
late '60s; both sell leather miniskirts, but the similarity
Fog City Leather is all about basics. North Beach Leather
is all about sass.
In the early, back-to-the-land days, says Peter James
Rundberg, founder of Fog City Leather, "I was living
on a farm in the Castro Valley, doing tooled leather
jackets, painted flower purses, Grecian-style leather
sandals. It was all very hippie-dippy.''
At the same time, in the heart of San Francisco, Michael
Hoban was starting to make a name for himself with fitted,
hand-laced jackets made from leather scraps and leather
shirts, bellbottoms and wild capes at North Beach Leather
on Grant Street. His far-out designs soon attracted
a big celebrity crowd; Elton John walked away with a
rainbow fringe jacket and Sammy Davis Jr., bought a
red, white and blue Captain America outfit. Hoban's
designs were worn by Cher, Elvis Presley and John Lennon,
among others. Hoban kept it up for several decades,
introducing new colors and sleek, sexy cuts to keep
his customers happy (lately they have included many
of the 49ers, Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child and Jennifer
But in the summer of 2003, after insurmountable financial
troubles, Hoban lost the business, and he has since
relocated to Hawaii. The company is now owned by 46-year-old
Skip Pas, Hoban's former general manager, who kept the
famous name and the clingy designs. Only one North Beach
Leather store remains, on Grant Avenue, on Union Square.
"We've been friendly rivals for more than 30 years,''
says Rundberg, who has moved his shop around the city
a few times, but has been a fixture on Union Street
since 1989. "We send each other customers all the time.''
Both make almost everything out of soft Italian lambskin,
and at both places, classic black leather is still the
No. 1 choice, followed by red and brown. But the prices
are vastly different, as is the ambience.
Fog City is so small that Rundberg, and his wife, Susanne,
who co-own the business, barely have room to move around;
there are jackets, pants and skirts hanging everywhere,
including the walls. In a workshop behind the sales
counter, a small staff works on custom orders.
"We make everything right here in the shop,'' Rundberg,
59, says. "We have access to hundreds of colors. We
can make just about anything you want in about three
to four weeks.''
Fog City's signature jacket is black or red, short and
fitted, with a stand-up collar and zip front, in embossed
leather made to look like alligator; it also comes in
smooth leather versions in bright pink, lime-green and
With his workshop on the premises, Rundberg can keep
prices down; jackets run about $450; a smooth leather
skirt with a kick pleat in the back is about $250, a
pair of boot-cut pants that hit just below the waist
are $300. (He also specializes in exotic skins; a man's
alligator blazer is about $10,000 -- the most expensive
item Rundberg makes.)
When he says custom, he means it. "We've outfitted 7-foot-2
basketball players; one of my best customers is former
Warrior Nate Thurmond; he wears like a 48 extra-extra-extra
But if someone should wander in looking for a thigh-high
leather dress, Rundberg sends her to North Beach Leather.
"They do a much better job with dresses; it's not our
True enough, you'll find plenty of those at the spacious,
brightly lighted store on Grant Avenue near Union Square,
the company's only remaining store location.
For many years, with 11 locations, North Beach Leather
was the largest privately owned leather company in the
United States. But the luxury market was greatly affected
after the Sept. 11 attacks, leading to the closing of
all but the Union Square store by the summer of 2003.
Hoban declared "general assignment," says Pas, who retained
the license for the North Beach Leather name. General
assignment offers a company the option of avoiding bankruptcy
through a more efficient and less expensive way to wind
down operations, liquidate assets and distribute proceeds
to creditors. "The name is instantly recognizable; it
meant everything to us to keep it.''
Pas, who designs the collection now, wisely kept up
what Hoban left behind. "We're all about dressy, sexy
designs,'' he says. "We do clingy dresses with cutouts
in the back or the sides; bustiers, low-rise pants.
We have more colors now than ever -- eggplant, pearlescent
blue, butterscotch, merlot.''
A black leather jacket with a double zipper (one that
opens from both the bottom and the top), is about $600;
low-rise boot-cut pants are about $500, a miniskirt
is about $300. Specialty items, like a red minidress
with grommets, is about $700; a butterscotch coat-dress
with a double zip, is $800, matching boot-cut pants
are $600, a leather coat is about $800.
"I may put French lace on the hem of a dress, add French
cuffs to the sleeve of a jacket, and I always like to
cut a jacket short, or a pant low, to show a bit of
skin,'' he says.
The Spencer jacket (a one-button short jacket), at $695,
a cashmere cape with fox trim, $1,500, and mink and
fox shrug, $1,800, are the trendy items for the season,
Still, he can't please everyone. "If someone comes in
here wanting a custom jacket," he says, "I send them
Fog City Leather, 2060 Union St., (415) 567-1996
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