Imperial Leather is a brand of soaps, toiletries and healthcare products manufactured by PZ Cussons. The brand originates in Britain and is now available in a number of other countries including Australia, Denmark, Germany, India, Indonesia, Iran, Kenya, Pakistan, South Africa, New Zealand and the United Arab Emirates. The brand is not widely available in the United States but can be obtained via online sales and in some speciality shops.
The story of the brand goes all the way back to 1768 when a Russian nobleman called Count Orlof commissioned a brand of perfume from Bayleys of Bond Street in London. The perfume was called 'Eau de Cologne Imperiale Russe'. Russia leather was a high-quality leather exported widely from Russia and recognisable by a distinctive aroma from its birch oil tanning process. In 1921 Bayleys was acquired by Cussons Sons & Co, owned by Alexander Tom Cussons. It was not until some years later in 1938 that Alexander Cussons's daughter, Marjorie, used a version of the original perfume and created Imperial Leather soap. The soap was initially called 'Russian Leather', but was soon renamed to Imperial Leather. In 1975 the Cussons Group was itself acquired by Paterson Zochonis, recently renamed to PZ Cussons.
World War II advertising
In 1942 due to World War II all soaps were rationed in Britain. Imperial Leather soap was therefore marketed as being the best choice because it lasted longer than other soaps. The following is an extract from a World War II advertisement:
- "Imperial Leather Toilet Soap is one of the few luxuries still available to the discriminating. Supplies are obviously limited, but if only because Imperial Leather lasts longer and increases the purchasing power of your coupons, you should buy it wherever and whenever you can."
Themed printed advertisements 1940s-1950s
During the 1940s to late 1950s Cussons Sons and Company Ltd, under the direction of Marjorie Goodwin, embarked upon a prolific printed advert campaign with a new theme for the advertising of Imperial Leather released every year. They have become collectable as vintage adverts. Below is a table of some of the advertising themes:
|1950||Tropical Fish||Cedric Chater|
|1953||Miniature Gardens||Cedric Chater|
|1954||The Language of the Fan||J. Duvelleroy|
|1955||Exotic Beauty (Cactuses)||Norman Weaver|
|1956||A Garden of Birds||Charles Tunnicliffe|
|1958||Zodiac and Birthstones|
Printed advertisements 1980s to present
In 2013 Cussons ran a series of printed adverts for the Imperial Leather Foamburst range with a genie theme and the tagline “release the lather, feel the magic”.
Television has been an important part of Imperial Leather advertising for decades. Amongst the most popular Imperial Leather adverts were the ‘triple bath’ series. This series of adverts began in the 1970s and continued into the 1980s. The adverts featured a family of three, each in three separate baths, using Imperial Leather whilst travelling to an exotic location by train, plane or spacecraft.
Imperial Leather adverts have previously featured Richard Stapley, Paolo Di Canio, Ralph Ineson, Julie Walters and Paul Merton. The Julie Walters advert featured her singing, with the final line "Imperial Leather: our only comfort in life." The Paul Merton series of adverts included a commercial where he attempts to interview an unsuspecting man in the shower and a further commercial where he wears a lab coat and conducts an experiment on identical twins.
More recent Imperial Leather television adverts include the rose tattoo (1999), the firemen fantasy (2002), the footballer fantasy (2002), the dancing duck (2002) and the secret shower advert (2005).
Cussons Imperial Leather sponsored the XVII Commonwealth Games, held in Manchester in 2002. In 2004 Imperial Leather sponsored the TV show Ant & Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway. In 2004 Imperial Leather also sponsored a model cow called Imperial Heifer. The cow was on public display in Manchester. The model was later sold at auction with money donated to the Manchester Kids charity.
In 2004, Imperial Leather sponsored a theme park ride called The Flume which opened at Alton Towers. Also, in 2006 The Bubbleworks was opened at Chessington World of Adventures sponsored by the company. Both rides had the same 'bath time with attitude' theme with many rubber ducks. Original Source, another PZ Cussons product sponsored a ride called Tidal Wave at Thorpe Park. The contract with the rides ended in 2009, the rides had all of the Imperial Leather logos removed.
Discontinued and revived products
In the 1950s a number of Imperial Leather products were manufactured which have since been discontinued, although some have later returned. The discontinued products include Imperial Leather Cologne (Cussons branded version of the original product), Imperial Leather Brilliantine (solid and as lotion), Imperial Leather After Shave Lotion, Imperial Leather Bath Cubes, Imperial Leather Shaving Stick, Imperial Leather Shaving Bowl and Imperial Leather Shaving Cream. Below is an extract from a 1957 advert for Imperial Leather Shaving Stick:
- “Cussons’ Imperial Leather is the choice of men of fame and men of promise. It is the choice of men of good taste.”
In Australia, two of these products have fairly recently returned in a new attempt to diversify the brand. The Imperial Leather Shaving Cream and the After Shave Lotion have returned to supermarkets in that country, in two varieties (Original Red and Vertigo Grey), and are joined by Imperial Leather Deodorant and a range of bodywash and handwash lotions. The bodywash and handwash lotions do not come in the original Imperial Leather scent, despite making use of the brand name, but instead come in various other exotic variations such as ‘Japanese Spa’.
Die-cast toy vans have been manufactured with the Cussons Imperial Leather livery. There are two different types. Both have been discontinued and are collectable. They are an Austin A40 van made by Lledo (released in 1997) and a 30 cwt Bedford van also made by Lledo.
An Imperial Leather yellow duck beanie was produced as part of the promotion for a 2001 relaunch.
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- Jones S. 17 November 2001, "Bubbly PZ washes hands of some of its imperial past" Financial Times. p. 2.
- Company House Records – (Renamed on 31 May 2002)
- Martin, Kathy (2017). Famous Brands & Their Origins. South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword History. p. 103. ISBN 9781781590157.
- "Imperial Leather picks top French model". Chemist & Druggist. September 24, 1988. p. 556.
- "Imperial Leather's New Direction". Chemist & Druggist. January 28, 1989. p. 126.
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- "Richard Stapley". The Independent. June 2, 2010. p. 9.
- "Merton's Imperial Shower". Chemist & Druggist. August 13, 1993. p. 254.
- "£5m boost for Imperial Leather". Chemist & Druggist. June 30, 1990. p. 1143.
- Bainbridge, J. 2002, “Imperial Leather targets women with dream sequence ad” Marketing
- "Promotions". Chemist & Druggist. August 18, 1973. p. 204.
- "Game Plan". Financial Times. September 28, 2001. p. 21.
- Grimshaw, C. 2004, "Imperial Leather to sponsor Saturday Night Takeaway" Marketing
- Lepper, J. 2004, "TV push promotes Imperial Leather's Alton Towers deal" Marketing
- Tennis Australia's 2010-2011 Annual Report
- "Open minded: volleys from Melbourne Park". The Sydney Morning Herald. January 2011.