dunhill-leather bag

  
Leather bags are unique among men’s accessories.

A good one will last a lifetime and, if treated well, will look better at the end than the beginning of your life together.

Only leather has this attribute, gaining an individual patina from the way it is used and cared for, and a bag provides the largest canvas on which that beauty can be displayed.

The quality of leather attachés, holdalls and brief cases varies hugely. But unlike suits, the quality is on the outside, for everyone to see. You just have to know what you’re looking for.


The three main areas to watch are leather, hardware and stitching.

Good leather is the most tactile area. Pick up a soft example, like a holdall, and feel how supple it is in your hand. Try bending it inwards, towards the centre of the bag, and watch for sharp creases on the surface that show whether there is some kind of coating on the top.

A good leather will wrinkle naturally like skin – like the creases on your knuckles.

“The skin that comes from the cow is around three quarters of an inch thick,” says Bill Amberg. “That is split into two or three layers and only the top has a grain, and inherent strength.

“The mid-layer might be used on cheaper bags, but painted with something to give it a new surface. That will peel off pretty quickly.”

When it comes to hardware, zips are pretty easy to test. Try zipping them up and down; the smoothest are the best (if that smoothness lasts).

Checking the D-rings that join handles or shoulder straps to the bag is also quite straightforward: all hardware is either a cast fitting or pressed metal.

The latter is lighter, cheaper and weaker. You can spot pressed metal because there will be a faint seam somewhere on it, usually running around the edge.

“We use cast stainless steel or brass on all our bags,” says Max Summerskill at Dunhill. “Cheaper hardware is usually zamak – a zinc alloy – and it will often be the first thing to go on a bag. That’s incredibly frustrating, when a good bag is undermined by poor fittings.”


Dunhill still makes a small part of its leather in north London – part of the Duke range. The difference in price between Duke and other ranges, from around £1,000 to over £2,000, is due to the large amount of hand-stitching involved.

Stitching by hand is always stronger than a machine because it involves two threads interweaving through the leather. A machine can’t reach through and bring a needle back.

That’s the prime reason Hermès or Ortus bags are so expensive: they are 100 per cent hand-sewn.

In general, look for slightly longer, tighter stitches that seem to be pulling the leather together. It is most commonly used on handles on other bags (such as Louis Vuitton hard cases) and some traditional attaché cases.


“The most beautiful of all is the lid-over case, where you can’t use a wooden frame because of the way the lid has to fit over the base,” says Carol Bellingham at William & Son. (Louis Vuitton example below.)

“The structure there is created entirely through stitching into a solid piece of leather. Because it doesn’t have a frame it can’t shatter. Someone once dropped one from the top of the Eiffel Tower; that’s how we know.”

In the end, outside large designer brands, price normally reflects much of the quality of a bag.

But there are also many bags from reputable companies that look cheap – with shiny, artificial finishes or printed patterns – and plenty of good bags that skimp on the hardware.

If you want a bag that will last a lifetime, it’s worth checking for the aforementioned signs of quality. After all, all a man really needs in life is a work bag, a weekend holdall and a suitcase. Invest in all three departments, and you’re set.

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Eric

Simon,

I am a young professional and would like to save up for a hold all bag. I’ve narrowed down my choices to a few companies, and I would like to get your opinion on them.
The intent is to buy a bag that will last a lifetime, and as such, I am willing to spend up to £1250.
The companies that I have thought about are Mulberry, Swaine Adeney & Brigg and Ghurka. Your opinion on them is greatly appreciated, along with any alternative suggestions. I would prefer to stay British, but I do like Ghurka’s offerings as well.

Thank you,
Eric

Lukas

Hello Mr. Crompton,
Do you know anything about this brand (Opperman London) and how the quality of their leather and zippers is ? Because for me the quality and price level are very interesting if you wouldn’t spend to much money on a leather bag or portfolio ?

Kind regards
Lukas.H

Philipp

Hi Simon,
I just purchased a Frank Clegg (Wall Street Briefcase). What do you think of this brand? Your feedback is much appreciated!

Cheers,
Philipp

Philipp

Ok thanks! What about care? Do you recommend any products and ways of looking after it?

Leslie Sutherland

Hi Simon,
I had been searching for a bag for a long time, inspired by Bruce Boyers Gurka bag, but not quite so expensive.
A couple of months back I happened on Tanner Bates in Dartington (Totnes) Devon.
John Hagger had a bag design that seemed perfect for me, his Baja bag, and he very kindly added a top handle for a modest extra charge. Not the most expensive bag in the world but is made with Oak Bark tanned leather and I was even able to choose the hide myself. I am absolutely delighted with it!

Heiko

Dear Simon,
I am planning to buy a leather weekend bag and consider the RMW City Large Overnight from the Australian brand R.M. Williams.
Have you any experience regarding this brand and the quality of their products?
Thank you in advance and kind regards
Heiko

Anonymous

A capsule post that elaborates on the last paragraph of this article would be most interesting, Simon.

Chris

Hey Simon, The Louis hard case in the photo is pretty hard core and high on the glam scale – very unexpected! Can you share anything about it? Is is vintage?

Anonymous

Simon, what do you think of Tanner Bates’ bags? The Merchant Fox has some stocked… the holdall seems lovely. ..

Anonymous

Hi Simon. Would love your thoughs on this Tanner Bates bag, sold by The Merchant Fox: https://www.themerchantfox.co.uk/products/oak-bark-leather-holford-holdall. I’m looking for something less formal than a briefcase to carry stuff around when not in a suit, but don’t like the look of tote bags. If not this one, would you recommend anything else? Thanks!

Anonymous

Thank you Simon, I really appreciate your input. Have you come across Stefano Bemer’s bag? You can see it here: https://www.stefanobemer.com/bags/document-bag. What do you think of it? Any thoughts on style and quality of make? Thanks very much.

MAReza

Hi Simon,
Would you have any suggestions for companies that make quality doctor’s bags? Thanks.
Kind regards,
Abbas

SHWETA LIMESTAYS

Hi Simon,Great article.I really appreciate your input regarding the bags so that we get knowledge about the different types of bags and it easy to make a choice.Thanks for sharing the article.Keep up the good work.

Sean

Simon, great post! Which bag is in the second picture with the alligator leather?

Sean

Thanks for the reply! Compared to a Dunhill it seems like a reasonable price.