Meeting Johnny meant I was able to see a few of the J Panther products, which is a bonus. Several companies that make great leather luggage in the US have come to my attention (I would also mention Lotuff & Clegg, who appear to do very nice work), but without the opportunity to see the product myself, I couldn’t recommend it.
Particularly with leather bags, you need to feel the leather (the tanning process is only the first step) and the hardware, as well as pick up on the little construction details that really make a brand stand out.
For example, the J Panther aviator – a versatile little bag named after the part-time pilot who makes it – has a lovely detail on the leather rings that support the straps. Given the amount of stress these little strips come under, they will always be the first place to fray and eventually give way. To avoid this problem, Johnny had them reinforced on the inside. Few people would ever notice, and certainly wouldn’t realise that other people don’t make luggage this way, but it means the bag will last years longer.
Although the aviator is nice, my biggest recommendation would be the ruc tote (above). Johnny was carrying one that he had used for a couple of years and it had worn wonderfully. The luggage-grade, 21-ounce canvas has a way of ageing that is almost comparable with leather, particularly given the light way it is waxed. And I liked the simple genius of the straps, which shift from shoulder carrying to backpack just by slipping through their leather loops. The aviator is similar – it can be carried in at least three different ways, as there are three (reinforced) leather rings as well as a wrist strap.
The attention to detail is obvious from the diagrams on the J Panther site – one reproduced above. These are not Esquire-type diagrams where the arrow is just a means to tell you that this overcoat is a classic design. The arrows here demonstrate the ways in which Johnny and his team have tried to make the pieces more practical and versatile at every turn. The tote took two years and nine prototypes to get right. I recommend checking out the ‘process’ part of the site for good images on the traditional dying at Horween and the Singer-sewn construction.
The ruc tote and aviator (in leather) are both $590.