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Briefcase that is both refined and sturdy

ofthesea

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Hey all, new member here. I love classic and well-made clothes. My favorite brand is Taylor Stitch out of San Francisco. Nice to be a part of this community, and I look forward to contributing.

I wanted to share my personal story and then ask the community for some advice.

When I started my career as a new lawyer, my parents bought me an incredible new leather briefcase as a gift. It was a big splurge but I fell in love with it and thought it would last my whole career.

I carried a lot of heavy stuff in it for work (binders full of paper, books, etc.). A few years later, it started to wear out. The shoulder strap harness broke, a rivet in the handle came out, the edges began to fray, etc. See pics below.

I was so disappointed. I loved the design of this bag but it just wasn't sturdy enough to meet the needs of my daily routine.

Has anyone else had this problem? I.e., trying to find a beautifully designed bag that is refined but also sturdy enough to carry a heavy load?

Full disclosure: I am exploring this because I want to make this bag if other people have had this problem too. I would love to hear any/all feedback.
IMG_4348.jpg IMG_4350.jpg IMG_4352.jpg IMG_4353.jpg IMG_4354.jpg
 

Anachronist

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Hi ofthesea, welcome to the forum :)

I know exactly what you mean and have had a similar experience with a beautiful briefcase from Aspinals of London that shows pretty much the same signs as yours. Like you, I am also looking for a more sturdy replacement for mine but have not managed to find the right one yet that meets mire desire for a modern and classy looking briefcase without frills. I've shied away from the bags with two handles and zipper that are so popular at the moment especially as I'm concerned that the restricted opening with the zipper will be a prime source for scratches to watches, wrists and the bags content (laptop and the like) and I'm not sure how sturdy they are. Hermes has a beautiful briefcase with a leather that appears to be thick enough to last a lifetime, but I can't get myself yet to spend 5-6k$ on a briefcase. So I'll join you here in listening to other folks' recommendations.
 

johng70

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There's no perfect answer. Soft leather is always going to have more issues with wear and tear. And, with a briefcase you simply don't baby them past a week or two. 5 years ago I got a Saddleback Leather briefcase. It is built like a tank. It's heavy, durable leather. Is the leather scarred? Sure is - that's just life for a leather briefcase. Is there any wear and tear? NOPE. They're beautifully rugged bags. And, they carry a 100 year guarantee. Yep. Handle tears out? They'll fix it. When you see how these things are built you'll see the difference between them and the bag you had. Now, they used to be made in USA which is another reason I bought them. They have since moved factory to mexico but it carries the same 100 year warranty.
https://saddlebackleather.com/leather-briefcases
 

Anachronist

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These definitely look like they can take a beating... without wanting to highjack ofthesea's thread I'm curious if there are some slightly more elegant yet equally hardwearing briefcases out there. Personally, I'm just not a big fan of too many straps and shackles.
 

djunglew

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If you have an emotional attachment, have you considered a restoration? Might get a few more years out of it.
 

ofthesea

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These definitely look like they can take a beating... without wanting to highjack ofthesea's thread I'm curious if there are some slightly more elegant yet equally hardwearing briefcases out there. Personally, I'm just not a big fan of too many straps and shackles.
Thanks so much Anachronist for your posts. From what I've found in my exploration so far, you may want to check out the bags from Lotuff Leather, which seem pretty on point in terms of classic elegance with great quality (made in America with full grain vegetable tanned leather):

https://lotuffleather.com/collections/briefcases

I'm curious what you think of these. The Bridle Lock and Bridle Compass are nice options without straps. Personally, I think the Triumph is pretty amazing at straddling the line between a structured case made with thick heavy leather, but also having a little bend in it so it looks a little less stiff right out of the box. The main drawback for me is also the zipper and the double handle.

Can I ask you a follow up question? When you mention sturdiness / hardwearing, does that speak to the general quality (materials, construction, etc.) as opposed to the ability to carry heavy things? Just curious how important heavy carrying features (reinforced shoulder harness, etc.) would be.
 

ofthesea

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There's no perfect answer. Soft leather is always going to have more issues with wear and tear. And, with a briefcase you simply don't baby them past a week or two. 5 years ago I got a Saddleback Leather briefcase. It is built like a tank. It's heavy, durable leather. Is the leather scarred? Sure is - that's just life for a leather briefcase. Is there any wear and tear? NOPE. They're beautifully rugged bags. And, they carry a 100 year guarantee. Yep. Handle tears out? They'll fix it. When you see how these things are built you'll see the difference between them and the bag you had. Now, they used to be made in USA which is another reason I bought them. They have since moved factory to mexico but it carries the same 100 year warranty.
https://saddlebackleather.com/leather-briefcases
Thanks very much Johng70. Saddleback bags seem really well-made and built to last. I've heard they run a little heavy in terms of weight. Has that been an issue for you?

What you say about not babying the bags is really true. Despite my love of the bag, I couldn't bring myself to research proper bag care and buy a good oil or moisturizer, which probably contributed to some of the wear and tear.

That brings to mind an idea I wanted to float here - what if a bag came with some sort of bag care service? You mail the bag to our workshop, the maker applies leather moisturizer and inspects it for any problems, and returns it to you all cleaned up (or asks you if you want any repairs done, if needed)? Curious what you would think about this. Sort of a different way to handle the problem of people not finding time for bag care.
 
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ofthesea

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If you have an emotional attachment, have you considered a restoration? Might get a few more years out of it.
Thanks djunglew. Pretty interesting to see how he takes apart the whole bag, fixes everything, and puts it all back together. In my case, I think some specific repairs on the trouble spots and a lot of conditioning will help.
 

johng70

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Thanks very much Johng70. Saddleback bags seem really well-made and built to last. I've heard they run a little heavy in terms of weight. Has that been an issue for you?

That brings to mind an idea I wanted to float here - what if a bag came with some sort of bag care service? You mail the bag to our workshop, the maker applies leather moisturizer and inspects it for any problems, and returns it to you all cleaned up (or asks you if you want any repairs done, if needed)? Curious what you would think about this. Sort of a different way to handle the problem of people not finding time for bag care.
First about weight - yes it's a heavier bag. It's thicker leather so there's no way around that. If you want durable, it's going to be thicker & heavier.
As to the cleaning/repair service - you're not going to get third parties to repair really - getting matching rivets & threads, etc wouldn't be worth their while. For cleaning/conditioning I just can't see it really - too much work and too little demand. So, I think you have to get smart about the type of bag you buy for an everyday briefcase. It should be a style that scarring enhances.
 

Anachronist

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Can I ask you a follow up question? When you mention sturdiness / hardwearing, does that speak to the general quality (materials, construction, etc.) as opposed to the ability to carry heavy things? Just curious how important heavy carrying features (reinforced shoulder harness, etc.) would be.
With sturdiness I indeed meant the ability of the briefcase to carry copious amounts of content and weight without falling apart. This is a critical requirement for me as well. With hardwearing I was referring to the general leather's ability to take a beating. My Aspinal chairman's briefcase was okayish in both regards, despite the rather soft leather it was made of. Only the cardboard stiffeners used in the dividers fell apart after a few years and now the metal shanks in the sides that were intended to give it vertical stiffness have recently made their way through the leather (puncturing it from the inside) and are threat to trousers etc. because of their sharpness :(

The Lotuff Leather Compass and Bridle briefcases are very nice and go precisely in the direction of slightly more stylish, yet with an old school touch. Thanks for that recommendation!
 

ofthesea

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First about weight - yes it's a heavier bag. It's thicker leather so there's no way around that. If you want durable, it's going to be thicker & heavier.
As to the cleaning/repair service - you're not going to get third parties to repair really - getting matching rivets & threads, etc wouldn't be worth their while. For cleaning/conditioning I just can't see it really - too much work and too little demand. So, I think you have to get smart about the type of bag you buy for an everyday briefcase. It should be a style that scarring enhances.
Thanks johng70. Understood on the point about durability and weight. Seems right that using full grain leather is always going to be heavier. Maybe it would be good to have a strap that's really comfortable. Do you like the strap okay on the Saddleback bag? I'm going to keep noodling on ways to make a durable bag that is lighter (e.g., using a liner instead of double-sided leather on the bag interior).

And thanks very much for your thoughts on the bag care service. Would your answer change if we sent someone to your door to pick up the bag and return it the next day?
 

ofthesea

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With sturdiness I indeed meant the ability of the briefcase to carry copious amounts of content and weight without falling apart. This is a critical requirement for me as well. With hardwearing I was referring to the general leather's ability to take a beating. My Aspinal chairman's briefcase was okayish in both regards, despite the rather soft leather it was made of. Only the cardboard stiffeners used in the dividers fell apart after a few years and now the metal shanks in the sides that were intended to give it vertical stiffness have recently made their way through the leather (puncturing it from the inside) and are threat to trousers etc. because of their sharpness :(

The Lotuff Leather Compass and Bridle briefcases are very nice and go precisely in the direction of slightly more stylish, yet with an old school touch. Thanks for that recommendation!
Thanks for the response Anachronist. Really helpful to know more about your needs / requirements in a bag, and about your experience with the Aspinal. Sorry to hear about the metal shanks coming through the leather - that does sound problematic! Hopefully repairable or at least manageable.

Glad you liked the Lotuff bags. I've been really impressed with what they're doing.
 

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