I have had a number of briefcases over the last year or two – a sort of trial and error to see what I like and don’t like about each kind of style, sometimes mixed in with a bit of “leather artisantry wannabe” to explore how to restore/rejuvenate older cases. In my never ending search for the perfect case I happened upon a website of a US-based artisan (in Maine) who made leather bags, briefcases, belts, and other such leather items. I contacted the Alan McKinnon of Narragansett Leathers (http://www.narragansettleathers.com/ e-mail: McKinnon752@roadrunner.com), to see what he can do for me – basically, to see if I can customize a briefcase and if so, how much customization room I had. Alan and I exchanged many e-mails in total from start to finish, with Alan explaining what he could and could not offer in terms of style, finish and cost. Every e-mail was answered within, at most, 48 hours with a detailed, thoughtful reply. He sent me photos of completed cases so that I can see some of what was possible, and explained why he would choose one styling or structural detail over another. His 40+ years of experience put me at ease in that the level of quality that I was expecting would be met with superlative expertise. For me, hand-made, well made and “not horribly expensive” were the top 3 category check boxes that I wanted to fill – and I think Alan accomplished that wonderfully. Do note that Alan hand cuts and assembles each briefcase – a one man operation. I told Alan that I wanted the following features, and he was able to accommodate them all: •Chestnut color (basically a slightly darker/richer British Tan) •17"x13"x4" dimensions (exterior) •2 interior compartments - 3" (closest to front) and 1" (closest to back) •Two pen holders and one miscellaenous sized holder on the middle panel, placed close together in the middle of the panel •Two strap/buckle closures in natural finish, solid brass color •Rounded flap edge •Back 'quick access' pocket covering entire back of the bag As you can see, you have a choice of leather color, dimensions, compartment number and size, interior adornments, flap style, closing style, buckle style, and exterior finishing. This is where my imagination took me, so I am not sure if there is room for more personalization outside of the categories I’ve listed. The type of leather (quality, tanning process) is very important to me. I love leather, and I want it to look good, age nicely, and be sturdy for a long time. Alan uses the Wickett & Craig tannery out of Curwensville, PA (http://www.wickett-craig.com/). His choice for his briefcases is the English Bridle vegetable tanned leather. It is 6-7oz in weight, which is perfect for this application. The leather comes with a finished backside, so Alan does not line his bags. I was hesitant about this, but now that I have the bag I rather like that it’s not lined. The leather as described on the Wickett and Craig site: “Used in more ways than we can count, drum dyed and hot stuffed, English bridle needs no finishing. After drum dying we impregnate the leather with our own formula of waxes and oils to create durable yet flexible leather. We then finish the grain and flesh with our rich beautiful aniline dye to show off the natural texture. Last, we seal the color in and then finish it with a wax coat to give it a look like none other! Check out our “color” and “pricing” tabs for more information.” Alan’s construction and artisanship, IMO, is top notch. The bag is very well made, with nice attention to detail and excellent stitching, leather thickness. It's one of those "you know it's great just by looking at it" bags. The stitching is by machine at about 10 SPI. Everything is tight and even, with no loose threads/skewed edges or anything of the sort. The handle is thick yet comfortable, and the interior pockets are exactly as I wanted them. OK, enough writing. Here are some photos that Alan sent to me while he was making the bag. I asked for these specifically so that I can see how it’s made, and Alan gratefully accepted to do so. And here are some of my photos that I took today. It took about one month from order to delivery. Overall, I am extremely happy with how my first custom bag turned out!
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5/9/11 at 11:02pm