Robb Report: The beauty of bags, and Japanese artisans

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The most recent issue of Robb Report UK included a couple of my pieces: a column singing the praises of good leather accessories, and a feature highlighting the Japanese artisans we visited last year. 

I have reproduced the column below. The detail on Japanese artisans can be largely seen in our previous articles on Japanese tailors and Japanese shoemakers


An old bag is the most beautiful thing we can own

My grandfather has an attaché case made by what is now Swaine Adeney.

It is in deep brown leather, with brass locks and feet, and has been meticulously maintained for 40 years. One stitching repair was required in that time, and one of the feet replaced, but other than that it has survived almost daily use unscathed.

In fact, more than that. Unlike almost every other item of clothing a man can own, it has got better with age.

The colour has deepened at the points it regularly touched the hands - around the corners, either side of the locks. The leather has a deep glow from many layers of saddle soap, rubbed in every few months to stop the leather drying out. And the brass has tarnished around the edges, only brought back to a high polish on its uppermost points.

It is a thing of beauty. And most significantly for me, it is a beauty that has been earned.

This kind of effect in leather cannot be bought; ‘antiqued’ effects always end up looking patchy and artificial. You could perhaps find a case second hand that had been just a lovingly looked after, but then the beauty would not be personal, would not reflect your work and time. On the lid of my grandfather’s case you can even see the direction he has swirled the saddle soap each time, using the same motion for four decades.

A few companies still make cases to this quality. Among them are Asprey and Dunhill in the UK, as well as Swaine Adeney. They use traditional bridle leather, stretch it over a wooden frame, and hand stitch the long edges.

Several others will make one in the manner if asked. But rarer, perhaps, is someone that is prepared to use the same bag for such a long period of their life, and look after it.

Does a bag reward such treatment more than anything else in the male wardrobe?

Shoes can certainly get better with age. The leather can be looked after in the same way, with the soft middle of the shoe moulding around the joints, and the stiff toe and heel building up layers of shining polish.

But even shoes wear out, after a few replacements of the sole. And nothing else really comes close.

A jacket’s canvas adapts to the wearer, but after that will simply fray or stain. The same goes for shirts and ties. There is a certain degagé elegance to a frayed shirt collar or sweater patched at the elbows. But neither is enriched in the way leather is from love and care.

I’d like to say I have learned from my grandfather’s example. But although I have a beautiful, hand-sewn briefcase that has been well looked after, I simply have too many bags for any of them to acquire the same patina. I’ve even been tempted into vintage pieces as a shortcut.

Still, I hold out hope. I understand the principle; I understand the value such a piece has. In a few years when my life and style settles down, perhaps I will revert to just one briefcase and one weekender for travel.

And a tote. You got to have a nice tote.


Images of Japan feature (with Jamie Ferguson's photography):

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Jerome Mackay

I absolutely concur.
Robert Ettinger is fortunate enough to have inherited his father’s attache case, made in the 1950s, which is a thing of beauty. Its special story, just like your grandfather’s, Simon, adding such an aura of wonderment on top.
There are very few people still making these in the proper, traditional way, now, so best to get your hands on one while you can. Your grandsons will bless you to their grave!

Nick Inkster

Fully agree about how beautifully a well made leather case “matures” over time.
I have a satchel style from SAB which must be 35 years old and looks fantastic.
Sadly it doesn’t get much use these days as it is simply too big and heavy for my needs, but it is still quite a work of art.

victor chicharro garcia

Please a lot photos of your grandfather attache. Sure, will be one of the best post .
Thank you for consider. have a nice day


You’re wearing a great pair of cream trousers on Jamie Ferguson’s Instagram with your caliendo jacket, might I ask what they’re made from?

George Jacobs

I am having trouble finding a repairer for my older leather goods. Can you please suggest anyone?

Dario Aliotta

The content of my car has been stolen in full in south Italy. Among many personal items, my attache case from the 50s has been taken too. Any Idea on how to get replacement in the UK? Thank you very much.

Hui Wen

Hi Simon,

I’ve just stumbled upon this site several days ago & discovered a wealth of information about style & everyday luxuries. Thank you!

You mention “And a tote. You got to have a nice tote.” above. I see that I am unfortunately too late to the PS tote party. Do you have a recommendation for another nice leather tote, perhaps with softer edges/a less structured look than the PS tote?


Thank you, Simon. I looked at Frank Clegg’s website and really like the lined totes! Very smart looks set it apart from many other brands which only have unlined totes. Definitely under consideration.

Do you have any experience with WP + Standard totes/bags? They were formerly called Whipping Post. Full-grain veg-tanned leather but much cheaper than many other brands, so I’m wondering if it’s as good a product or if it’s inferior. Multiple reviews generally seem positive.

Paul M

Hello Simon,
I’m really puzzled when it comes to choosing a colour for my first briefcase. I may have a slight preference for tan over dark brown (particularly within the Swaine Adeney range). It seems a dark brown bag would win the versatility contest but wouldn’t get the same kind of deep/rich patina that tan leather can get. If you could only have one briefcase, which colour would you choose?