Of course he's wearing lederhosen himself - he always does. Long ones in the winter, and short ones in the summer - with and without braces. Legs akimbo, he surveys his kingdom: a shop with workshop attached, located directly in the centre of Berchtesgaden. This is where Engelbert Aigner receives his customers: local traditional costume aficionados, well-to-do tourists, celebrities such as the legendary luger Georg Hackl and sometimes even royalty, like the Prince of Saudi Arabia.
On the ground floor, the shop pretty much looks like the numerous other shops selling traditional Bavarian costumes: lots of wood, a selection of dirndls and blouses, jackets, hose top-like leg warmers and knitted knee-high socks. The first floor, though, is a veritable treasure trove. It is full of hand- and tailor-made deerskin lederhosen, all awaiting their new owners: black ones and dark brown ones, used-look or with an olive green tinge, decorated with lockstitch or flat embroidered patterns. This floor is visited almost exclusively by men. "All women simply look their prettiest in a dirndl," the boss agrees.
Although, of course, he can't quite make do without any women at all. Three of these are busy at a large wooden table in the workshop behind the actual shop. The table holds a huge pile of deerskins. They feel wonderfully soft. "One skin is enough for one pair of trousers, rarely for two; you tend to need two for the long ones," Elisabeth Schnöll explains as she irons the leather. Then she carefully spreads it on the table and copies the pattern which her boss has previously created to the customer's size with a drawing bone made of horn. This way, the leather is not spoilt by any kind of paint and marked only by slight indentations. A pair of trousers may be made up of as many as up to 33 pieces. Engelbert Aigner then cuts the pieces out of the deerskin; that's a job for the boss, and it's Elisabeth's turn again when it comes to sewing them together.
Engelbert Aigner built up his lederhosen business himself. He actually wanted to become a musical instrument maker, but was offered an apprenticeship as a leather craftworker. His mother - luckily - talked him into accepting; ever since, he has collected anything he can find on the art of traditional lederhosen making, especially old patterns. Today, he is one of the few people in Bavaria who can still make lederhosen by hand. And there's no change in sight: his oldest son Engelbert has already followed in his father's footsteps and the youngest, Michael, is also interested in the trade. A leather craftworker apprenticeship lasts three years; the respective college is in Mainburg near Ingolstadt. That's where Engelbert junior is currently qualifying to become a master craftsman.
It takes the boss and his ladies around 25 hours to make one of these garments; the price varies between 700 and 2500 euros, depending on the elaborateness of the embroidery. "It's a pair of trousers for life," says Engelbert Aigner, "provided you look after them properly." However, this means definitely no washing or dry cleaning: stains and watermarks can be removed with a brush or by rubbing two leather areas against each other. Grease spots disappear with the help of blotting paper and an iron. But in any case - who'd want to own a pair of lederhosen that looks brand spanking new? The boss agrees: "They should look well-worn, that's just the way they should be." And he's the expert!