If you’re one of those fashionistas who like standing out in the crowd and have a thing for eco-friendliness, Lisbon’s Pelcor store is one place you shouldn’t miss. Located in the historical Baixa District and on the way to an even more historical, medieval Alfama (28, Rua das Pedras Negras), this space is a temple of innovation inspired by tradition. You’ll find there unforgettable and unique accessories made out of one of nature’s precious treasures – cork.
Cork is nothing but the outermost layer of the bark of majestic cork oaks, 30% of which grow in Portugal. Those branchy trees have a lifetime of 250 to 350 years and are the only ones whose bark regenerates naturally after each and every harvesting. The first extraction can occur no sooner than once a cork oak is about 25 years old. Then, cork can be harvested 15 times on average, once in every nine years, from May to August. Large and raw planks of cork are dried in the hot, South European sun and, then, boiled for several hours in water to remove juice residues. This way elastic cork boards are created which undergo further treatment.
Cork, which is at the same time lightweight, flexible, resistant, water- and gas-impermeable, soundproof, antistatic, non-conducive and inert, was highly appreciated as early as about 3,000 B.C.: ancient Egyptians, Persians and Babylonians used to make fishing equipment out of it, trendy Roman ladies wore shoes with cork soles and their husbands drank wine from amphoras sealed with cork stoppers.
Already in modern times cork served mainly the latter of the aforementioned purposes until 2003 when a young and entrepreneurial woman started a true revolution in the cork industry…
Expecting high demand for champagne at the turn of the millennium, Ms Sandra Correia, granddaughter of the founder of one of the largest factories of cork stoppers for wine bottles in Algarve, ordered huge amounts of the raw material. Since her predictions didn’t quite pan out, and excessive quantities of cork were left in the warehouse, she decided to breathe a brand new life into the unique, yet a bit time-stuck material and exhibited at an international trade show her first fashion item – an umbrella entirely made of the so-called cork skin - extremely light, leather-like, carefully processed material. The response she got encouraged her to extend her line of accessories with subtle, sophisticated and eco-friendly bags, clutches, suitcases and wallets. The cork industry has never been the same again… Other ideas followed, other companies joined the trend and nowadays nearly everything – from clothes, shoes, pieces of furniture and home decoration accessories to car seats, floor and wall linings or even parts of bridges – can be made of cork. In recognition of her merits for reinvention of the conservative sector of economy Sandra Correia was named in 2011 “The Best Female Entrepreneur of Europe” by the European Parliament. For the NATO summit held in 2010 in Lisbon she was asked to design and create gifts for international dignitaries: former American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and German Chancellor Angela Merkel got luxury clutches made of cork imitating crocodile leather, while US President Barrack Obama – a high-end cork collar and leash for his Portuguese water dog – Bo. The Pelcor brand has apparently gained appreciation of some of the biggest pop stars in the world – Madonna or Pink seem to value their cork bags a lot. It is hardly surprising if you consider all of their qualities – not only does cork skin fail to absorb water and other liquids but also, due to its antistatic properties, it does not attract dirt particles. It hardly wears out at all – think about cork stoppers which have lasted for hundred years! So forget the stains and welcome longevity and the unique scent of drywood only cork skin can give you!