Dimitri Omersa and his wife Inge arrived in England in 1955 settling in a sanctuary for refugees in Hitchin, Hertfordshire. Dimitri a Yugoslav by birth had been a naval officer and political prisoner, imprisoned by Tito after the Second World War. On arriving in England Dimitri entered the leather trade representing a small leather company in Hitchin, during this time he met a leather goods designer at Liberty’s of London known as ‘Old Bill’.
According to the Omersa website it seems that the first pig came into being almost by accident when ‘Old Bill’, who worked for Liberty’s of London making hand luggage from pigskin, experimented with leather left overs. He came up with the idea of a stuffed leather pig footstool which was sold through Liberty’s in 1927 and became an instant success.
‘Old Bill’ was due to retire and a deal was struck for Dimitri Omersa to take over the business and continue the supply of pigs to Liberty’s. The business was brought to Hitchin in 1958 and before long Omersa began work on other animals. His first new piece was an elephant, followed by a donkey and rhinocerous, and sold exclusively in the UK through Liberty’s up until the mid 1970′s, with a tell tale Liberty’s of London stamp under the ear.
In the 1960′s Dimitri took his menagerie of leather goods to the Unites States, where in 1963 he won a Gold medal at the Californian State Fair for the donkey design shown here. The animals were sold through the original Abercrombie and Fitch during the 1960′s. They developed a significant following in the USA, where of course ones preference for the donkey or elephant had a much greater symbolism than in the UK.
For more information on the the history of Omersa who are still making these leather animals go to:
Liberty are still stockists: