Frank Clegg – Signature Travel Duffle

A review of my second piece from Frank Clegg leather works in Massachusetts. Signature Travel Duffle.

This has been a long time coming. I’ve wanted to buy this Frank Clegg Signature Travel Duffle for a few years now but something has always gotten in the way or seemed more pressing at the time and I always found a reason to put it off.

This was, in part, because I already had a leather weekend bag that did the job, despite being generally uninspiring. It was a bag. My things fit in it. Changing it was more a luxury than a necessity.

Once I bought my Frank Clegg briefcase (which I’ve used several days a week for a few years now) the goal then became to build a collection comprised entirely from Frank Clegg pieces. After finding a brand you connect with it’s nice to build a collection over time. For me, that means brands like Private White V.C for outerwear, Saint Crispin’s for shoes and now Frank Clegg for leather goods.

This is particularly true of how a majority of men like to buy their clothes and accessories. Most of us tend not to want to overthink it every time we need a new item. Once you trust a brand it’s so much easier and nicer to keep going back, building a collection, knowing that the style, quality, and price point are something you’re happy with.

Jeans are the classic example of this, for men. Once you find a pair of jeans that fit perfectly and if you like the brand enough, being able to go back and re-order when you need a new pair makes life easy. It’s one less thing to have to think about.

For me, that means opening the wardrobe and seeing a collection of matching styles (consistent proportions and design elements unique to the brand), colour and materials. That’s a great feeling if you’re wired like I am.

Frank Clegg embody everything we hope for when we imagine a made in the USA product. Quality, durability, craftsmanship. A rugged utilitarianism that is designed to do a specific thing very well and will likely outlast you, but with an eye for detail and proportion that make it equally beautiful and timeless. These are heritage pieces.

You imagine the guy who built the brand is solidly built, with a salt and pepper beard and lives in checked flannel shirts (Frank is and does), that they probably use really hardy leathers which take time to break in (they do) but that it’s probably part of the fun (it is) and then you think “Man… I bet it’s made somewhere like Massachusetts” (it is).

As I always do, out of curiosity, I thought about alternatives. If I wasn’t to buy another Frank Clegg piece, what would I buy?

Bennett Winch in the UK make a great weekender, but it’s twice the price. It has some nice features, like a shoe cubby and several purpose built storage compartments, but it’s not enough to sway me away from Frank Clegg.

Any of the Italian brands, such as Ferragamo are many multiples of the price and no better, plus a significant part of the price is for the brand name.

The French are in a category all of their own, so LVMH, Goyard and Hermes are just not comparable for price. Their products are more elaborate and different, though they do make great pieces.

So there’s really no better choice for value, quality, price and authenticity that I know of.

Additionally, with Frank Clegg, you have a strong core group of products that aren’t going anywhere. That’s a huge benefit in building a collection because you can go back to the site next year and order the smaller travel duffle in the same colour, with the same monogram, in the same style. Then 6 months later to buy the wash bag and port brief and so on. The end result is a consistent, harmonious collection from the same maker. The whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts and you then have a collection of heritage investment pieces that you’ll hand down someday. Want to buy another signature travel duffle in 20 years for your son or daughter? I’d put good money on it still being available for purchase.

If that’s not the essence of a craft-focused business making timeless products, I don’t know what is.

To the bag itself – If you’ve read the earlier article on my briefcase then there will be no surprises here. I had the choice of bridle leather (which I had the briefcase made in) or smooth tumbled leather. As appealing as the softness of tumbled leather is, it’s impossible for me to go past the solid feel and sturdiness of bridle leather. It takes a lot longer to break in, but it ages so beautifully. You’re going to have the bag for 50 years, so enjoy the journey as it ages and takes on the patina of your experiences.

The hardware is rock solid and designed for multiple lifetimes of use (a travel bag will need to take a lot more abuse than a briefcase) and it comes with a carry strap which is easily removed if you don’t plan to use it (I don’t). It makes for a cleaner overall look without the strap.

Inside is typically spartan, with Sunbrella lining and one zip-up compartment. I wouldn’t mind another one on the other side, or a small one on the outside for a passport and a couple of basics, but the bag still works without it. There’s no embellishment here or fancy details that you might find with Italian makers. It’s hardy, spacious and designed to carry your stuff, which it does admirably.

I’m also glad that in this instance I had the bag made in “Chestnut” as it’s so much more versatile than the “Cognac” of my briefcase. All future orders will be in chestnut now to keep the same colour scheme throughout the collection moving forwards.

My only disappointment with the experience has been with their back office processes. The bag was supposed to have had my monogram on one side of the top opening and my son Noah’s monogram on the other, so I could give the bag to him someday, with both of our initials on there together. Admittedly, that’s a special request, though not a complicated one, but after long delays with email replies (not hearing back for weeks, requiring additional follow-up emails), emails being lost and different people responding and not being aware of previous email conversations, we ended up just having to order the bag with the standard single monogram so it would arrive in time for my birthday.

It’s not a huge deal, but it was something I was really looking forward to and would have been a special experience for Noah and I and it’s something which should have easily been taken care of (or even declined) if not for multiple administrative oversights.

My other niggling issue was import taxes not being calculated at checkout. In this day and age, e-commerce can easily automate these calculations in the background, so a customer knows exactly what the final amount is at checkout (Private White does this very well, displaying prices in the local currency and all import duties built into the price you see when browsing). For a brand that deals heavily internationally, this should be a given now. This meant we had to unexpectedly pay (via FedEx) another couple of hundred dollars once the bag arrived in Australia before customs released it. (Gaziano and Girling did this to me several years ago after I ordered $5,000 worth of shoes and, if they weren’t then in their infancy, I may never have forgiven them).

The plus side of all of this is that none of it has anything to with the quality of the product itself. They’re administrative issues that can easily be rectified if desired. I’d rather that than great customer service and a mediocre product. Though, obviously, the goal should be to achieve excellence in both.

With a bit of luck, in the years to come, I’ll look forward to another article showing a full collection of Frank Clegg leather goods, all of which will outlive me, but continue seeing the world with my boys and maybe even their boys, too…

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