Filson vinage bag

 
I’ve known Filson bags for quite a few years now, but only got to know the management back in January when I met the President, Gray Madden (above). 

The aesthetic of Filson bags has a lot to recommend it, with its rugged mix of bridle leather and heavy canvas. The finish is not as clean as some other canvas/leather bags, such as J Panther, and certainly not in the luxury bracket of Troubadour, Lotuff or the big fashion brands. But they work and age very well. 

In fact, that’s probably the biggest reason for including them on Permanent Style: the graceful ageing, backed up by a lifetime guarantee. 
 

Filson briefcaseFilson president Gray Madden and Simon Crompton

 
Filson regularly repairs bags that come back to it after years of year, with the most common repairs being replaced zips and tears in the canvas, which are vigorously over-stitched. Again, this is a rather rugged finish, but anyone that likes the look of jeans that are well-worn and well-loved will appreciate it.

“It’s one of the advantages to making so much ourselves – 90% is made by us in Seattle or Idaho,” says Madden. “We tend not to repair clothes though, as it’s usually not worth it. Those we usually replace.”

And does he get many people taking advantage of the repair policy – by buying them second-hand and immediately sending them back? “That does happen a bit, yes, but it’s the same work we’re doing to keep a bag going. And you have to accept there will be people who try to take advantage.”
 

Filson  vintage bag

 
Filson has actually only been making bags for 20 years; the clothes have a much deeper provenance, going back to the Alaskan gold rush in nineteenth century. Today, however, about 60% of the production is bags and accessories. 

The standard canvas is a 22oz Millerain twill, and there is also a ‘tin’ cloth that is slightly lighter and waxed to make it more waterproof. The zips are largely YKK and the fittings are treated brass.

The Millerain ages the better of the two – as you can see in the image of the 15-year-old bag above. It’s always nice to have brass hardware as well, although personally I’d prefer one that is allowed to naturally tarnish – it’s just as beautiful as the ageing canvas.  (I’m clearly in the minority here though – almost no one does untreated brass on bags any more.)
 

Filson president Gray Madden

 
“One nice thing is we don’t order our zippers pre-cut, which would be easier and cheaper,” comments Madden. “We order the rolls and then cut them ourselves, which takes longer but gives us flexibility in getting the fit right, and makes those repairs easier.”

Filson opened their first store outside the Northwest United States in 2013, on London’s Newburgh Street (just off Carnaby St). It’s worth checking out, particularly for the old Filson luggage that the brand are offering.

Shinola, which is part of the same group as Filson, also just opened across the street, selling its watches and related accessories – and they will be making a Filson range of watches that launches later this year. 
 

Filson watch

  
Photos: Luke Carby

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Giffen

You’re not alone in preferring untreated brass, I hate anything artificially aged in that way. Although I would extend that to include the patination of fine leather shoes…

Trent

I recently purchased a briefcase from Vermilyea Pelle with lovely tumbled brass hardware, which I expect will age well. I considered a Filson but opted for this more obscure maker, who has a similar aesthetic, and I’m incredibly happy with it. I think it may outlive me…

David

Trent, I was intrigued by your mention of Vermilyea Pelle, and looked them up. The briefcases are gorgeous, and not out of my price range. It’s now a year on since you posted – how are you finding the bag now? Thanks, David

Trent

Hi David, It’s actually been two years! I take the briefcase with me daily and it’s stood up incredibly well to heavy use, becoming more malleable and characterful. The canvas has lightened slightly (it came heavily waxed), the leather has darkened. It’s just great – absolutely recommended!

David

That’s good to know, thanks. So, did you get the “Standard Briefcase in Heavy Olive Waxed Canvas/Brown Chromexcel” or the “Brown Nut Dublin/ Ranger Tan Waxed Canvas Briefcase”? And, is your sense that they repair throughout the lifetime of the product like Filson does?

twitter_blairinvestment

I drive past their shop in Seattle several times a week but must admit that I prefer their older bags. My father bought a beautiful leather duffle there about 10 years ago but they have almost completely stopped making all leather bags. It’s too bad because I thought they were great value at their price point but I just can’t get into a canvas bag.

Giffen

Not even a very big one?

Filson rucksack wearer

I bought two Filson canvas bags – rucksack & flight bag because of superior aesthetic design. Danger is the leather straps which can wear down jacket cloth and lining, causing holes and huge lining rips. LV has sheepskin strap lining. So forget cashmere wool jacket cloth mix, try keepers tweed. The weak part of Filson bag construction is bottom corners near strap bracing. Filson customer service department is honest and keeps promises.

Filson rucksack wearer

Dear Simon,

I fear (from experience on a Filson fanatic thread of a website for clothes) you must mean a Filson bag for computers (lap top) or maybe some huge duffelbag? I wrote RUCKSACK (BACKSACK) and FLIGHT BAG (CARRY ON BAG), both models are with leather straps, obvious to use! Every rucksack or backsack has two straps, one for each shoulder! And if you carry a flight bag without using the shoulder strap, either there’s not much in it or you are very strong. So you must mean the jacket, not the bag. Well, what do you propose? I am in winter now wearing a covert coat, so my Filson rucksack leather straps cannot do much damage. As I say, no cashmere mix, no flannel because those cloths cannot take abrasion. Linen seems tough. But never again will I buy a jacket which isn’t sturdy. Hopsack seems tough, too. But I anticipate lightweight keepers tweed for future jackets. Unless Filson offers leather straps with sheepskin padding like LV.

Filson rucksack wearer

So you confirm the tweed as suitable cloth. I also saw a nice mix of wool and linen, another of wool and silk at Cordings – what do you think? Can either stand leather abrasion? I have a Super 140 wool blazer, but I better be careful. The whole thing could change if Filson would simply offer leather straps with padding to protect the clothes. By the way, my two Filson bags do not belong to any photographed above.

Filson rucksack wearer

PS: The heavier a Filson rucksack is loaded, the more pressure the leather straps make on jacket, i.e. the more damage the abrasion of jacket cloth and jacket lining. Earlier shop manager on Jermyn Street repaired all jacket damage on RTW eagerly and perfectly, new management refused.

Matt S

Straps shouldn’t be worn over any jacket you care about, even hearty covert cloth or tweed!

Filson rucksack wearer

Matt, I know you well as Bond scholar, talented graphic artist (grenadine patterns), and allround gentleman:
I must carry books galore around everywhere, plus other stuff (shaver, electronic toothbrush, boot formgivers, etc.) my Filson rucksack is beautiful and robust, why not? Maybe Filson will add padding when they read my idea and send me new padded straps?

Jan

Dear Simon,

I suppose the bag on the table in the b/w picture is yours? Could you provide some details about the bag? I am searching for a slim bag / portfolio when I do not need to carry a lot around and the model looks promising.

Thank you

Gustaf

Simon, given your aversion to straps, I wonder how you solve the bag issue on a daily basis? Handheld bags becomes a strain for me as soon as there’s more than a book or two inside, and if I was to cycle, a bag with a strap is much more convenient!

Carl

Would it be possible to have a backpack (in my case the J Panther RucTote) over a jacket if you have a sturdy parka over it as protection?

Sean

What do you think of Filson bags in general, precisely the 24 hour bag ?

Thomas

I have a filson briefcase with a small hole on the back pocket, due to everyday use. Living in Europe one still has to send it back to Seatle for repair I guess? Or do they have a settlement in Europe?

Reuven Lax

Interesting. Their flagship store (and factory) is 15 minutes from my house, but I was never aware of them before.

Andrew Hughes

Hi,

Love this site. Very inspiring. For a number of years I have been buying Japanese clothing such as Buzz Rickson or The Real McCoys but also American clothing such as Gitman Vintage.

I have a Jeremy waxed bag by Ally Capellino that is falling apart after 10 years of constant use. It’s served me well and time to buy a new bag. I wondered what people think about Filson’s zippered totes.

Regards,

Andrew

Andrew

Hi Simon,

Thanks for your reply. Would you recommend buying a Filson tote in tan colour?

Best wishes,

Andrew

Anonymous

have you got any recommendation of brands to check out at a lower or similar price point to Frank clegg for gym bags e.g. leather/canvas mix – Im more inclined to totes then duffel

Michael

Hi Simon,
What colour do you think is best for the Filson Original Briefcase to work with casual clothing between otter green and tan?

Jack Williams

I have several Filson bags that were bought just when Filson started making them: a medium twill field bag which I use as a camera bag – it has been back to Filson for repairs, and a pullman bag which is perfect for overnight or weekend travel. These bag are heavy material, beautifully made and have sturdy zippers. The field bag was once repaired quickly – just some stitching that came loose. The rivets held, however. Filson stands behind its products.

One should carry these bags across one’s body to sit on one’s back rather than on one shoulder to avoid the stress on a jacket. Look at photographs of Civil War soldiers carrying their haversacks – which were heavy – with straps crossed diagonally across their chests.

I also have a tin cloth packer coat that is at least 30 years old – just beautiful and worn. Perfect to layer over wool shirts. I have worn it all day in wet snow storms and stayed dry. I was at the Boston Filson’s store recently and had an interesting discussion about their fabrics. The tin cloth of my packer coat is no longer made – with the newer advances in fabrics, all their cloth is lighter, more flexible (my tin cloth jacket stands up by itself.) Not cheaper material, actually more comfortable except in extreme conditions. I ended up buying a quilted field jacket for fall/spring season.

If one looks at the Filson’s catalogue, the images sell a working, rugged, outdoors use – fishermen, loggers, mechanics, etc. Their stores, however, clearly attract the “urban” user, especially for the vintage bags. Perhaps it is better to establish one’s own patina through use and a life lived.