We all have a weakness or two and one of ours is elegant luggage! As many of us are still dreaming of getting back to our familiar everyday journeys, we are increasingly adopting the ‘buy less buy better’ mantra. The aesthetic of a bag must always be about what appeals to your eye – no real rules here except if you want a slimming effect, buy a bag that is more north to south in design rather than east to west!
A number of our customers have asked us to create their forever pieces so we’re often asked about what to look for in a great quality bag – just what are the details that make a piece stand that test of time? For this week’s Gladstonian Chronicles we sat with our Master Craftsman over a virtual coffee and together shared our top tips on what we look for. Here is your five-minute masterclass straight from the craft room on what you need know for the next bag that catches your eye!
Start with good foundations – leather
Leather is a great fabric because it ages so well – it is one of the rare things in life that looks better as it grows older! For that elegant piece, look no further than a grade A first selection leather – a vegetable tanned leather is perfect. Why? Because it lasts a lifetime and develops a beautiful patina.
Vegetable tanning dates from medieval times. Leather skins were preserved in local streams, anchored in the water where a natural tanning process occurred from the surrounding trees. Their leaves, bark and fruits fell into the water and naturally started to tan the leather. Today it remains a natural chemical-free process resulting in a range of colours.
When you’re next looking closely at the bag that catches your eye look for the patina or shine on the leather. If it’s a great quality, it will age well and continue to look more beautiful as it gets older! We also look at the ‘hand’ of the leather – a term used to describe the softness and feel of the leather. And if you are after a name than we look no further than Barenia leather – one of the most precious and beautiful to work with and used in some of the finest Houses in the world. So where next…
Yes we really look at the stitching!
Ok, so you have never paid that much attention to the stitching on your bag. It’s simple – look for six to eight stiches per cm and if you have them on your bag then it shows a finer hand. A beautiful piece of luggage will be created with a guideline before being stitched as it provides a guide to stich alongside.
“The joy of stitching is taking pleasure in the experience of making something with your own hands”
Always look for a good strong cotton – for the best quality, it will generally be run through beeswax first which acts as both a lubricant and will also make the cotton waterproof. Have you found some irregularities when examining the stitches on your bag with not all identical? Lucky you! You’re most likely the owner of a hand-stitched piece. If all of the stitches are identical, it’s likely that the machine has taken over from the hands. But beautiful hand-stitched needs a good handle…
We love a good edge stain
There are more to handles than you might think! Ever purchased a bag and the handles are thick, too tight and hurt when you carry your bag? Chances are the size is wrong for the design or they are not made of the right material. We always look for a handle that is made from rope – it gives you the support in carrying but is flexible to mould to your hand and has a softness with the leather.
But we also look hard at the ‘light’. What’s that? Simply it’s the distance from the top of the bag to the top of the handle – we talk about this all the time in design! Next time you look at a bag look for a good strong light as it will give you the room to carry the bag comfortably in your hand or on the shoulder without leaving those red marks on your skin!
But for a sign of real craftsmanship look for the edge stain – the painting of the leather around the handles and the outside areas of the bag. For our Everyday Friends collection, it’s in red but can be any colour you desire if you are having your own bag made. It shows the competency of the craftsman and is painted lovingly having sanded the leather first. But it would be nice to have a little bling!
Hardware is King!
So we may like a little or a lot of bling on our bags – it’s the hardware that’s always King. We always look closely at the hardware on any bag. It’s all about weight. The next time you pick up a bag, just feel the weight of the hardware on it. It should be weighty, ideally made of brass and then coated in a precious metal. If the hardware is light or sounds hollow when you tap your finger on it, generally inferior materials have been used.
“As bags get ever more absurdly large, so they need to carry more stuff to validate the expense of this huge trunk with chains, buckles and padlocks on”
A. A. Gill
So how many times in a day do you use a zip? Lots. And it’s no different on a bag. We are always zipping and un-zipping a bag to look at the size of zip teeth and the run of the zip. It has to be YKK – one of the best zips in the world. Make sure the zip runs smoothly and is well sewn into the zip ribbon in the bag. Also don’t forget to lift the bag up and look at the underneath. We always make sure it has a minimum of four, ideally six, studs so when in daily use the bottom of the bag is protected from the elements resting safely on the studs. So, for the outside of the bag its leather, stitching, handles, hardware and for the inside……
And finally – take a peek inside…
Our bags are both a private possession and a public statement. Always take a look inside the bag. If you have ever opened a vintage piece of luggage pre c1940 then it would have been most likely lined with leather inside as well or ‘self-lined’. This was very popular but also made bags very heavy for those carrying them.
We look for a soft feel, tough but lightweight material for the lining – it’s called Alcantara and is the must-have lining in any quality piece. Don’t forget to look for at least one pocket zip pocket for those important items and ideally a few more for the technology we carry with us today.
Five minute masterclass
We hope you’ve enjoyed this short peek into the world of the craft of bags and that we’ll make bag experts out of you yet! Although in reality the artisans who make some of the world’s finest bags (including ours) take years to master their craft with an apprenticeship taking six years to complete. Still, at least we hope we’ve helped you to run a more critical eye over your next piece!