Frank Clegg Briefcase

I’ve been a fan of Frank Clegg for a long time. Along with most of the makers I’ve covered, it’s not solely the end product which I’m interested in, but those whose philosophy of manufacturing and creation I also admire and feel a connection with.

In real terms, what that means is writing about people who create something they’re passionate about, because of a genuine love of the process, raw materials and finished work, rather than someone who makes something or does their work just to make money (as most people do and have done since economies began).

My monogram, embossed under the handle.

Frank Clegg and his Leatherworks, based in Massachusetts fit hand in glove with my aesthetic, practical and philosophical views on what a good product is and why it should be made in the first place.

For me, to sum up Frank Clegg products in a word, is honesty. There’s no unnecessary fanfare around the products. Practicality takes precedence and then quality and robust manufacturing processes take over. If there’s a rivet on a bag, it’s there for a reason, not only because it looks good. If a seam or stress point is double stitched, it’s because they don’t want it coming undone for the next 100 years and they’re not willing to take the chance that a single stitch might not hold. Zips are from Riri and have that charming initial stiffness which eases over time as the leather and brass soften up.

It’s hard not to say the following without sounding trite, but they’re products for a more classic man. By that I mean they’re made for those of us who value things which last, are made well and become like old friends over time. A travel bag which joins you for every trip and adventure for 50 years becomes a part of you and your story. Products like that and the people who care enough to make them are vanishingly rare in modern culture.

A briefcase which I could keep for life and eventually hand down had been on my list for a long time and I recently had the chance to order Frank Clegg’s Lock briefcase last month.

One of the nice things about our change to mobile technology in the last 20 years is that a quality briefcase remains every bit as relevant as it was 50 and 100 years ago, albeit slightly re-purposed. Laptops are still roughly around the size of a writing portfolio, give or take, and they still need to be transported as we move around during the day, making a briefcase the ideal means of carrying our daily work around and that’s unlikely to change any time soon.

I chose the Lock briefcase for both aesthetic and practical reasons. Aesthetic, because the size and design details feel in proportion and well balanced. And practical, because it’s a good size to fit everything I need when I’m out, with some extra room for anything else I might need to bring or pick up on a given day.

The range from Frank Clegg is extensive, so narrowing down which is most fit for purpose really comes down to understanding how you’ll use it, what internal space you’ll need and then choosing accordingly.

In the end it came down to a decision between the Port brief and the Lock brief, with the Port being smaller again, with no carry strap. I’d have loved the Port brief (and will probably get one as well, later on) if I just needed a laptop and one or two other items, but I work with a separate keyboard and mouse (try it if you haven’t already), as well as carrying my Scuola del Cuoio leather folio and I needed a bit more room than the Port brief could likely offer.

I’ve spread out what I normal days’ work looks like, to give readers an idea of what the briefcase can comfortably hold (with plenty of extra room).

The locking mechanism from Swiss makers Amiet is pleasingly solid and ties in nicely with the brass hardware on the handle and strap. I’ve not photographed the strap here as I don’t use it and prefer how much cleaner the case looks without it.

If I could make one change, I would have had the case made one shade darker. Mine is in Cognac, but in hindsight, chestnut would have been a better choice. I’ll factor that in for future acquisitions.

Internally, the finish is Spartan and simple. Higher end luxury makers would typically line the internals with either leather or fabric, but here it’s just the smoothed rear of the hide on display on the inner sides and front. This comes back to my appreciation for the honest, simple, but flawless construction. Internal leather lining doesn’t improve the cases performance and would only add weight, but with this more raw way of finishing, everything is on display and if the construction wasn’t clean and well executed, there would be no way to hide it.

Plenty of space internally, as well as a separate, zippered section for secrets

This image tells a lot about Frank Clegg’s attitude to quality. This small leather patch sits on the inside facing of the case. Behind it is the rear of the lock. You could leave this exposed and save a lot of time and effort, but in this instance, it’s covered by a leather patch which has had it edges sealed and then blind attached (no stitches). I’m probably not going to see this more than a few times over the next however many years. They know that, too. But they’ve still chosen to carefully and meticulously finish the area anyway. To me, this image sums up the companies attitude to quality better than any other.

The end result, then, is a briefcase driven firstly to be fit for purpose, which is then complimented by careful aesthetic design and then finished with a significant focus on attention to detail. It’s exactly the kind of briefcase I want, knowing it will be with me regularly and serving its purpose for decades from now.

Later this year I’ll also be making a custom travel bag with Frank Clegg, designed specifically to be handed down to my son, Noah, in the future. I’ll aim to have that finished before the year is out.

Andrew is an Australian born writer, covering the world's leading bespoke tailors and craftspeople in menswear, with a focus on authentic quality, over branding. He spends most of his days running his successful (god knows how) consulting company and travels frequently to Europe for work and writing. He's a passionate cyclist, former trainee professional golfer and lover of all things Cocker Spaniel. He's married to his best friend and significantly better half, Mehri. They have 2 little boys born 11 months apart, which was funny for about 2 seconds before reality set in.

6 Comments

  • Reply May 1, 2019

    Vinay

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the useful and in-depth review of the Frank Clegg bag.

    I am interested in their zip-top briefcase, believing its a nice mix between modern and traditional styling.

    I had two questions regarding the FC briefcases, in particular the zip-top briefcase:

    1. I want a bag that is as versatile as possible, to be used for work, corporate meetings as well as for more casual purposes. I am considering either chestnut or chocolate colour. Do you recommend one over the other? Will both develop a nice patina over time? I am not sure if the chocolate is too dark to develop any discernible patina over time (similar to black).

    2. I am split between a single and double gusset. The double fits more but with the divider, its more difficult to fit larger objects (e.g. taking a piece or two of fruit to work). Would the single gusset provide more space to fit larger items given it has no internal divider?

    Thanks for your advice.

    Regards.

    • Reply May 6, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      Good call on the zip-top. It’s a nice bag.
      1. Chocolate for sure. Unless you wear a lot of chestnut shoes, chocolate will go with much more of your wardrobe. Chocolate is also much more professional. A patina is nice and the chocolate will develop one, although not as obviously, but it will still be much better suited to the context you’ll be using it in. As a rule when buying anything (suits, shoes, bags) make your first purchase conservative, even when you’re tempted by something which grabs your eye more. Every time I’ve gone for something that looks cooler, over something conservative as a first purchase I’ve regretted it. Every time!

      2. Unless you *really* need to carry a bunch of stuff, go for a slimmer option. It’s more elegant and less cumbersome. If I could make my first purchase over again, I’d have gone with the port brief (slimmer, although no carry strap) and in chocolate. It’d still fit what I need, but be easier and more classic to carry around. Maybe just buy slimmer fruit 😉

  • Reply May 7, 2019

    Vinay

    Thanks Andrew. I agree that the chocolate is going to be more versatile and useful particularly for business. I suspect it will also go better with black and brown shoes, navy and grey suits. I was more interested in the chestnut believing it might provide a richer patina versus the darker chocolate colour.

    So you would opt for the single gusset zip-top bag in chocolate rather than the double gusset? I haven’t seen the single gusset in person before and I am hoping the proportions and look is still very nice (I have only seen the double gusset chestnut model in person and it looked great). its always difficult to work these details out from a website.

    On a side note, I am also after a daily commuter / overnight bag. Am thinking something like the Bennett Winch commuter canvas bag in olive. Have you had a chance to try any of the Bennett Winch products (made in England)? Also, would you recommend any other bags I can use as a daily commuter / gym bag / overnighter that is of high quality?

    Thanks again for your advice.

    • Reply May 8, 2019

      Andrew Doyle

      You’ll get away with a chocolate brief and black shoes (not ideal, but not unforgivable, either) but anything lighter will stand out in too greater contrast to dark or black shoes. You’re also correct r.e. the chocolate working with navy and grey suits.
      I’d go single gusset, as it’ll be slimmer overall and you should still be able to get a fair bit in there.
      For the overnight or commuter bag, go for leather, if you can afford it. Canvas is fine and practical (lighter, too) but it has none of the charm of leather. The leather will be something you’ll want to use at every opportunity for the rest of your life and it will age and soften beautifully.

      I’ve not had a chance to purchase anything from Bennett and Winch yet, but they high on my list. Whilst I’ve not used their bags yet, I feel confident in saying you wouldn’t regret a purchase from them. The quality seems very high and aesthetically you’d be hard pressed to find a more beautiful bag.

      I have an upcoming project with Frank Clegg where they’ll be customising a couple of bags for me, but after that, I’ll definitely buy a bag from B&W.
      For what you want, I’d be looking at either their (Clegg) signature, hampton or small travel duffles. Bridle leather is different to the softer leathers of B&W, but bridle leather ages beautifully.

  • Reply May 8, 2019

    Vinay

    Looks like single gusset in chocolate is the way to go for versatility and longevity. I also love the firmness of the harness belting (aka bridle) leather. I just have to make sure I plan to take slimmer fruit to work 🙂

    I agree that leather would be better over the longer term for a daily commuter or weekend bag. The Clegg signature or small travel duffles are really nice but I find them to be quite heavy even when they are empty. I walk to and from work (30 mins each way) and I suspect walking every day with a full duffel might be quite cumbersome. If the bag was used for the odd weekend away when you can put the bag in the car then that’s a different story. But for use every day, it seems a bit to heavy to be practical. That’s what attracted me to something like the Bennett Winch canvas commuter. Apparently their canvas has quite a luxurious feel whilst also being very light.

    I would be keen to know if you recommend any other brands/models for a daily commuter outside of Frank Clegg.

    I will also be interested to hear more about your collaborations / project with Frank Clegg as it progresses.

    Thanks again.

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