Charlie Borrow pilot bag: How great things age

Friday, January 26th 2024
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Lucas has had this canvas bag from Charlie Borrow for years, and I’ve always admired its rugged quality, particularly when we’ve traveled together. So I thought it would make a good entry in our How Great Things Age series, which of course has particular pertinence as part of our Dry January project.

Lucas has had it since 2017, and used it a lot - every day for long periods and (he estimates) probably three days a week on average for those seven years. It looks really great for it.

The body is a 24oz military-spec canvas, with the handles and strap similarly heavy-duty. The hardware is solid brass, and there’s a brass key clip on the outside.

The bag is unlined, with one external pocket sitting between the handle straps and two pockets on the inside (one canvas, one leather). The straps run underneath the body, which is the strongest method as well as a nice design element. There are lots of other details on Charlie's site, as with all the other products.

As I asked Lucas about the bag, he began looking through his phone at pictures of it over the years.

The first one from 2017 shows it sitting on the floor of the London Underground, and it almost looks like a different bag. The canvas is green, there is no patina or colour variation. It’s flat and plain.

Subsequent photos all show it sitting on the ground somewhere, and this seems telling. Lucas has never been gentle with it, and has only become better.

“When I was travelling round Europe for Drake’s, doing wholesale, I’d basically live out of the bag,” he says. “The suitcase I checked in was crammed full of Drake’s samples, so there was no room for me.

“The size meant I could fit three shirts, a pair of trousers and some underwear, plus toiletries, laptop etc. And that was me for the trip, going through France, Austria, Switzerland.”

“The nice thing about the shape is that when you carry it as a day bag, with the clothes all left at the hotel, it doesn’t look out of place. A weekender style or something equally big in a different shape would look odd, but this doesn’t.”

The flatter shape also makes it easy to store, and the shoulder strap has came in useful. “I know a lot of bags have a shoulder strap, but it had so many uses for me - it meant I could carry the bag across my back when I was hauling the suitcase, loop it round something on a train for a little security, and take it off when I didn’t need it.”

When I meet Lucas in town he often cycles in, and it’s this bag that’s always slung across him.

“The most punishment it’s taken is probably last year when I was in Mexico,” he says. “I bought too much stuff, so had to ram this full of all my clothes and check it in alongside my suitcase, then use a shopping bag for hand luggage.

“I was a bit anxious how it would come out the other side but it was fine. There’s one place where it looks like there’s a hole, but the material hasn’t actually broken, it’s just been pushed apart by something sharp. The fibres are all intact.”

The bag-maker Charlie Borrow is better known for his bridle-leather totes (above), which are similarly tough and straightforward in make, usually unlined with riveted handles.

He has a workshop near Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, where he also works on old chairs, reupholstering or replacing covers. It’s a lovely space, and I’d recommend visiting if you have the chance. Although it’s open most days, it’s always worth making an appointment in advance so Charlie knows you’re coming.

Lucas’s bag is a standard design, loosely based on a pilot’s helmet bag, but Charlie also does different designs and requests - as we saw recently with reader Ben, who is also a customer and had a crossbody bag made to particular proportions (below).

I’ve never had a tote like one of Charlie’s in bridle leather, but it would be interesting to try some time. They’re not cheap, but it’s great to have the store and the quality is certainly top notch - if Lucas’s experience testifies to anything, it’s that.

In terms of functionality it would be similar to my much-loved Frank Clegg tote, but the look would be a little more rugged and workwear-adjacent. I also like the way the natural leathers acquire a patina - it happens within a few weeks, going from pale pink to a rich tan, highlighting all the wrinkles and stretch marks.

It would probably be excessive given I have that Clegg and an old LL Bean one as well, but perhaps one day.

Lucas’s pilot bag, meanwhile, is sitting on top of his suitcase as I write this, in Florence airport as we wait for our flight home from Pitti. And it looks so nice - a great example of quality construction that has aged very well, and will only carry on doing so.

Lucas Nicholson runs the Permanent Style shop and has worked on PS for the past three years. Readers that use the support service on the shop will have benefited from his advice. He has also written for PS in the past, here.

The pilot bag starts at £350 and a typical bridle-leather tote from Charlie Borrow is £875. Everything is made to order, but orders can be made through the website. Lead times are typically 4-6 weeks, although are slightly longer at the moment. Contact Charlie for an accurate lead time.

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I wouldn’t be comfortable keeping my keys on the outside of a bag like that.

Lucas Nicholson

It’s funny once the Italian police aside that to me outside the Florence airport. But I fail to see the issue someone is going to steal my keys and what? They don’t directly relate to anything?


Nor is a shapeless bag without padding and full of clothes a good home for a laptop! But I imagine the IT function has to struggle to get heard in a organisation focused on clothing…


Poor Charlie, I see from his out of office he is away on honeymoon till 1st Feb, is going to have A LOT of emails on his return.

Great article.

Lucas Nicholson

Fingers crossed!


Thanks Simon, this one was just great. Lucas has worked his bag into perfection. I’m In the slow and steady process of putting together a small collection of bags to cover all bases and I think one of these would be perfect.

I imagine Charlie can expect a large number of orders coming in off the back of this article. Will be placing mine for an olive canvas later in the year.

Lucas Nicholson

It’s amazing how easy it is to really age something when you enjoy using it everyday.

Aaron L

Any thoughts on Ripstop vs canvas? Might be lighter to carry?

Dr Peter

Great piece, Simon. This bag reminds me of several attache cases and weekenders I have owned (and still own) made by Lands’ End here in Wisconsin, back in the eighties and nineties.This was a company originally created to make boating equipment, especially for Great Lakes travel. The bags were in the Square Rigger line and made out of rugged canvas and leather in a variety of colours, khaki and olive being my favourites. They were practically bomb-proof, and only after thirty years is one of them beginning to show some real wear and tear (small holes in the canvas) which simply adds cachet to the bag. I have travelled with them for extended stays in Holland, India and Ecuador, and used them in the roughest of conditions and environments — and they have stood the test of hard use. Canvas and leather make an unbeatable combination, in my opinion.


Simon is it right to conflate quality with durability? Surely you can have one without the other.
Reading Dr Peter’s post, durability was the word that sprang to mind, but then seeing you talk about reputation for quality got me thinking.
Orvis is another US brand that makes “outdoor” products, and again I think of their range as durable, ie made of materials that can withstand a hammering.
Thanks JK


Any opinion on Croots England? Their bags are more for the countryside perhaps but the bridle leather versions seem very well made.


I would recommend Croots bags. They’re of a similar quality to Brady and Chapman – comparable because they’re of a similar style and along with Billingham are connected by various owners/designers/workers. Hard-wearing, well made and made with very high quality materials.

Croots is also a family-run business and hand make all of their bags in England so has not “sold out”.

I own or have owned various bags from all four companies and they last forever. I use them for my camera equipment, gym bag, briefcase, carry-on, shopping and overnight.

They’ve all become a bit pricey over the years though…


Thank you, Matty, very useful. Was thinking of one of their rucksacks for shorter walks, either canvas or bridle leather. Leather version costs more, of course, but relatively seen the waxed canvas version seems to be more expensive.


Thanks for this insight. Which bag do you use for the gym?


Many folks here in the States don’t view it highly anymore either. At this point it’s just another sad story of a great brand that sold out. That said, I’ve had one of their totes for half a decade that I use for weekends away. The tote is quite nice for being not nice.


Hi Simon, do you know if the Levi’s is vintage or a current model?

And: Very cool bag, definitely.


Very interesting article, I was not aware of this maker.

Simon or Lucas, can you provide any comparison to Filson, in terms of quality of make or longevity? They look like good options for overnight canvas bags that age wonderfully.

Many thanks.

Lucas Nicholson

Hey Rob, as Simon says a bit more handwork but the main thing is support a person in a workshop rather than a bigger brand with its marketing budgets etc. not that there is anything at all wrong with that. It’s just nice to order from a maker for that interaction!


Thanks for this. Would that I had need for (yet another) bag. The one that’s attached was my day bag for many years, a gift from my wife when we saw it at a trade show, over 20 years ago. Made by Graf Lantz, who now makes a wide series of things all revolving around felt (but not men’s bags). It’s essentially a selvedge edge bag; one piece of an early example of plasticized canvas (exterior only), folded over itself lengthwise, with a base sewn into the inside bottom and a YKK zipper, and the ability to close it, folded, with the D ring or use it fully expanded. I did replace its daily use with a custom bag from a local maker of cyclists’ messenger bags, as I finally yielded to the idea of having interior pockets, but I’ll never give it up. RE an earlier comment, note that the key ring can sit inside the perforated outside pouch, giving great confidence that one’s key won’t go missing but keeping your keys readily accessible. Thanks again.


Wouldn’t it be nice to include, in an article about how things age, a picture of the thing new so readers can see how it’s aged?

Lucas Nicholson

Here you go. This is the first image I had that Simon references in the article


Hi Lucas, the color looked very different when aged, and it’s much more beautiful now. May I please know if you have washed the bag (and if so, how)? Thanks

Lucas Nicholson

I haven’t washed the bag, it has gotten pretty wet from time to time but I have just let it dry and it has been fine. I have thought about washing it recently and I imagine I would just handwash it in the bath.

John R.

I’ve had a few bags over the years – from Filson, Mismo, Bennet Winch and most recently this from Brady. I can see that a bag from Charlie, properly chosen, would be a keeper. It’s interesting, and perhaps not too surprising, that Charlie has several stockists in Japan.


Have you considered Croots’ Dalby and vintage canvas ranges? They are made in Malton, Yorkshire. There is a great choice of bags and accessories. The brand is stocked country retailers and William Evans in London. The prices are very reasonable for the quality.


You need to fix the link in “is better known for his bridle-leather totes (above),”


Thanks Simon and Lucas for this article. It celebrates the longevity and pleasure in owning such pieces. I wondered if you know how the ripstop material for this bag would perform/age compared to the cotton material options that are available for this bag?
Thank you.


Great article! I recently got a canvass tote bag from Hack Lederwaren that I find similarly useful and sturdy. A bit of a different design, but perhaps of interest to some, especially those living in Germany:


Many thanks for the tip, although I don’t see a product exactly like it on the homepage.

But still: I would definitely order a Charlie Borrow Pilot Bag in the future, but the direct import from the U.K. without the DDP system is too much of a hassle. I recently had a negative experience with Colhays (not the product, which is great) where I had to pay 20% import VAT, which is okay, plus 16% import tariff plus around 20-25% handling fees to the courier for taking care of this. 

Unfortunately, for me this limits the usefulness of many small companies presented on Permanent Style that do not offer DDP.


Thanks for the article. Have you tried the Coal Bag by this maker, as the dimensions seem like it may be the safer choice for carry on luggage?


Great story! Thanks for sharing, Lucas. Your photo of the bag new—it’s almost unrecognizable, but the fading looks lovely.
This is my kind of bag, though I might prefer a little shape to the bottom and not just flat. It even has a laptop sleeve option. Simon, with cotton/canvas bags like these, what color would you say is the most universal?

Tom in New Hampshire USA

I have an Orvis Battenkill duffle that has been hard used for twenty some years. Dark green cotton canvas duck somewhat larger than Lucas’s bag, but similar in feel. I have checked it as luggage around the world. I have had repairs made by the vendor. It has aged well. I wholly subscribe to the notion of buying fewer better things and taking care of them for many years of service.


Simon, it would be interesting if you could share some photos of how your PS x Clegg tote bag has aged…


Does it mean that this leather is so heavily treated that it no longer behaves as “real” leather?


Beautiful ! Simon – would be great to read an article on gym bags with sneaker compartments. Do you have any recommendations?


Simon what do you think of Croots bags – I saw some in Mayfair and thought they looked great


Sorry – i meant this Croots style in particular:


Thank you for the reply Simon! I love how you notice these details and curb tendencies towards flash. I found one with a more mute zip…