Broke and Bespoke

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A Paean to Saddleback Leather Company

I first came across Saddleback Leather Company about 6 or 7 years ago. There was a thread dedicated to them on StyleForum, and I was hooked from the minute I saw my first picture of that now-retired iteration of their ‘Classic Briefcase’. I was a broke graduate student then, with a dissertation defense date nowhere on the horizon. But I told myself that I would, as a gift to myself, buy a Saddleback Leather briefcase when I successfully defended my dissertation and had been officially promoted into the ranks of the literati and further swelled the population of that overeducated and underemployed social class.

Saddleback Leather goods are not cheap. In fact, they’re quite expensive. But the overwhelming word on the street (by which I mean internet fora) was that they were worth the money, and in fact, addictive once you took the plunge. As I edged closer to finishing my degree, but slipped further into penury with little prospect of gainful employment in sight, the thought of being able to justify dropping $500 or so on a briefcase seemed irresponsible, if not potentially calamitous. Images of financial ruin of the nineteenth-century literary sort flooded my mind. Indeed, when I did finally finish graduate school the thought of buying a Saddleback Leather briefcase had faded into the murky dream world of my unconscious, vying for space with other spectacular visions like a tenure track job at an ivy league university, or visible abdominal muscles.

Those who know me well from this blog, however, likely suspect that I couldn’t pass that great milestone without getting my hands on at least some robust leather good, the best approximation of a Saddleback Leather briefcase that my strained finances could withstand.  You would be right. Ensconced as I was in a seemingly perpetual state of monetary compromise, Saddleback Leather’s high price tags haunted me and generated a not insignificant sense of resentment at their being priced outside of my rather modest budget. I settled for something else. I’m sad to say, it was a direct rip-off of a Saddleback Leather briefcase, but cost me about a third of the price. It’s actually a great bag, and well worth the $165 I paid for it. For several years I was satisfied that I’d gotten a great deal—an equivalent to a Saddleback Leather bag, but by another name and at a fraction of the price.  

Several months ago, that long repressed dream of being a person who owned a bona fide Saddleback Leather bag actually became a reality when I was given the opportunity to review a complimentary product for this blog. Given the long and tumultuous genealogy of my personal history with Saddleback Leather that I’ve just relayed, it should come as no surprise that this was a seminal moment for me. Despite whatever other plaudits (deserved or not) I may have received for this blog up until that time, nothing could quite match the fact that I might soon actually be carrying around a genuine Saddleback Leather bag.

I opted to give their ‘Simple Backpack' a try. I mean, I already had a serviceable facsimile of their Classic Briefcase, right? No. Wrong. When the backpack arrived, it was clear within seconds of opening the box that Saddleback Leather products were on a whole different level from my other bag, which now seemed to me like nothing but a sad and deflated simulacrum. A cowhide sarcophagus filled to capacity with the empty air of imitation. I was overcome with a bilious sense of self loathing at how long I’d let myself believe that my other bag was comparable to the one Saddleback had sent me. I am, of course, being hyperbolic here for the sake of levity, but it was absolutely true that the qualitative difference in leather quality and construction was immediately apparent. I now worry that the stitching on my other bag is going to come undone every time I carry a heavier-than-average load of books in it. It probably wouldn’t happen, but that’s how much better constructed the Saddleback Leather bag is. It’s so well made that it’s generative of imagined worries for other products.

What hits you first about a Saddleback Leather product is the smell. That delectably incomparable scent of an immense amount of leather wafts out of the box like a sweet olfactory specter the second the seal on the box is broken. The ‘Chestnut’ colored leather of my backpack is a rich reddish caramel hue, and samples I’ve found online of how that colorway will age have me using the bag every day in the hopes that I too can be the owner of a beautifully-aged Saddleback Leather bag some day.

The ‘Simple Backpack' is a popular product from the brand because it doesn’t have a full pigskin lining like the briefcases, which allows it to be comparatively lightweight without sacrificing on carrying capacity. The bag is very thoughtfully designed, e.g., the bag tapers slightly towards the top opening just as the flap which covers it widens, ensuring that its contents will stay dry if one is caught in a downpour. The top closes with a long leather strap that loops through several D-rings attached to the main compartment of the bag, and is secured through the D-rings on the strap itself. Two fairly large side pockets with buckle closures can secure items that require easy access. There is a slip pocket created in the space between the side pockets and the body of the bag itself, where you might stash a newspaper or magazine during a commute. The bag’s interior is a giant pouch made with no internal organizers. You can fit a lot of stuff in there. The lower back is padded with a thin layer of neoprene sandwiched between two layers of leather, making the back quite comfortable even when the load you’re carrying is a heavy one. The straps are covered with removable shoulder pads that are also lined in neoprene (I can’t imagine wanting to wear the bag without the pads). The length of the shoulder straps can be adjusted by a simple buckle closure at the bottom of the bag, and with a neat and beautifully-crafted hole and stud and D-ring system near the shoulder. (Here’s a cool video of Saddleback’s owner showcasing the design features of the ‘Simple Backpack’)

I’ve been using this bag pretty much every day since receiving it several months ago, and while it has softened up some, it certainly hasn’t picked up any significant scrapes or dings yet. It’s very robust.  Though I am, on the one hand, happy that it remains fairly pristine, as I mentioned earlier there is a beauty to how the leather ages too. I guess it’ll be some time before the bag develops the patina associated with age and hard use. I’m happy to wait though, because I can’t see myself ever tiring of using this bag.

With a wisdom born of age and many misspent dollars, I can truly say that in my opinion Saddleback Leather Company goods are, despite their high price tag, worth the money they cost. I am not advocating reckless spending or going into debt to obtain one, but I am certainly saying that a Saddleback Leather bag is something I consider worth saving up for. If I could go back in time, I would certainly save up for a Saddleback Leather briefcase rather than buy the imitation one I own. Though I am not always a fan of the uncritical celebration of the gimmicky mantra “buy better, buy less” (especially since it’s usually uttered in the service of a market rationality that has at its heart the goal of getting you to always buy more, and if it can do so by getting you to spend more too,what’s better than that?), if you’re the kind of person who can truly exercise the requisite restraints and likes to save up for high quality things and keep and use them for a long time, then I would definitely recommend Saddleback Leather if you’re looking for a nice rugged looking leather bag or briefcase. Conversely, if you have discretionary income and love leather goods, I recommend spending some of that money on Saddleback Leather products. Either way, you’re not going to be disappointed.

I’m pretty excited about this. If the quality of Gregory’s leather goods is going to be comparable to that of his ties (and I’ve no reason to expect them not to be), this will be a great new resource for dressier leather wallets, card cases, etc.

louis-walton:

Small Leather Goods

I have enjoyed making leather goods for the last three years. It started with a canvas and leather messenger bag made on a machine and developed into completely hand made wallets like the ones above.

There is no substitute for time and concentrated effort when it comes to leather. A mistake is easily fixed with a seem ripper or razor blade when working with fabric. But one mistake in leather means scrapping the one part you are working on in the best case or starting the entire piece over in the worst case. Every hole that is punched and cut that is made must be both precise and accurate.

Great attention is paid to details by lining each piece with leather and finishing all raw edges to produce a finished look. This approach is so time intensive that the four pocket card holder in the top row above takes about six hours from the time the leather is cut to completion. Of the six hours, edge finishing alone takes 90 minutes. No time is spared as each piece is cut by hand with a sharp blade and every stitching mark is carefully punched before stitching.

To start, the focus of the leather program will be thin practical card holders that will not break the lines of tailored clothing. Eventually document holders, notebook covers, and portfolios will be available for order.

Stock is limited because of the time it takes to make each piece. Starting November 4, leather items will be available for purchase at LouisWalton.com. There will also be a small offering of wallets in Wingtip’s bespoke basement if you would like to pick one up or meet with me to design a custom item.

New Bottle-Opener/Keychain

New Bottle-Opener/Keychain

Chester Mox: Leather Wallets Handmade in the U.S.A.

I recently received a wallet to review from the Los Angeles-based husband and wife team that runs Chester Mox. Chester Mox offers a wide-ranging assortment of handmade leather wallets that run the gamut from eminently affordable (even by my standards) sleeve-style wallets like this $39 “dogleg” number made from Horween Chromexcel leather, cleverly designed simple multi-pocket slim wallets like this $60 Horween horsehide one, all the way up to more limited run pieces like this $240 dark green Horween shell cordovan slim bifold wallet, or this $360 American alligator bifold.

I first heard about Chester Mox about a year ago when they were written up on PutThisOn!, at which point I immediately placed an order for this $44 dogleg wallet made out of Horween Front Quarter Horsehide. I’ve been carrying it every day since I received it (until the review wallet arrived) and it is breaking in beautifully. The simple and robust construction has had no problems despite the wallet having been slipped in an out of overly-tight jeans and pants pockets thousands of times. The thick nylon stitching remains tight in the same places where it was originally stiched on by hand, and the handpainted edges of the thick leather look as good as new, though with a bit more character now. And the smooth horsehide has been tastefully darkened by the oils from my hands. 

The wallet I received from Chester Mox for review is this more refined compact bifold made out of an exceptionally fine high-grade Italian calf which Chester Mox calls “Antiqued.” It is the same leather that John Lobb and Hermes uses for their “Museum Calf” products. This wallet is absolutely stunning, and is probably the nicest leather accessory I’ve ever handled, and I’m not being hyperbolic. It has been beautifully hand burnished, and has subtle color gradations that give it a deeply luxurious look. It reminds me of what a finely bound and covered renaissance incunabula must have looked like, and I’ve no doubt it could weather the passage of centuries and only get finer with age. The wallet has been elegantly and simply designed, and has slots to hold 4 cards (you could of course stack cards if you want, and the leather would no doubt stretch to accomodate that) and two additional ‘hidden’ pockets where you can stash your cash and more cards if necessary.

The wallet is very compact, but it is not dainty, and it feels quite solid in the hand. And it slips easily into the interior chest pocket of a suit jacket without creating any kind of unsightly protuberance. Chester Mox offers a laser etching service for an additional $10, and there are numerous fonts you can choose from. The laser etching on both my Chester Mox wallets is precise, and was perfectly executed. 

What I really appreciate about Chester Mox is their wide range of products and the very reasonable pricing structure they have in place. There are some other companies around that sell very similar wallets to Chester Mox’s simpler offerings, and they charge about twice as much, and have a narrower selection of leathers to choose from and no personalization options. That makes Chester Mox a no-brainer for me. And with the holidays fast-approaching, a Chester Mox wallet would make an amazing gift for a friend, loved one, or family member.

Chester Mox: U.S.A. Designed and Crafted

I just received a beautiful wallet in the mail courtesy of the good folks at Chester Mox. Their leather goods are all handcrafted in Southern California using some of the world’s finest leathers from Horween and other famed tanneries across Europe. This wallet is made using Chester Mox’s “Antiqued Italian Calf,” which is, to my knowledge, the same leather Hermes calls Museum Calf.

I’ll be posting a full review with more pics in the near future, but my initial impression is highly favorable. I’ve owned this Chester Mox wallet for almost a year now (which I would gladly pay the full retail price for anyday—a steal at $40), and it’s been my favorite wallet ever…until now.