Text by Mark Cho / Photo by Mark Cho
As a frequent traveler, I am sensitive to how well my bags are serving me. Are they sturdy? Are they practical? Do they hold everything I need? As a member of The Armoury, I also think about how they fit with my clothes. Do I have the appropriate bag for work? What about for casual use? Over the next few articles, I will tell the stories of bags that are dear to me. Some are bags I worked on with The Armoury’s makers, trying to go the extra mile to make something useful to our customers. Some are bags that I think are exemplary designs. They are all bags that I use regularly and know intimately. What has been photographed are my personal items. Over the next few articles, I will tell their stories.
The Armoury x Frank Clegg Tote Bag
Frank Clegg is a family bag making company from Massachusetts, USA. Frank and his sons, Ian and Andrew all work in the business. They make excellent quality leather bags and at a very reasonable price. One of the best selling bags at The Armoury Hong Kong is their tote bag. We sell it well to both men and women. In Japan and Asia, it is not uncommon for a man to carry a tote bag but when we opened our New York store, we found selling tote bags to our customers a little more challenging. Some men felt the bags reminded them of ladies handbags and often were not aware of how practical a tote bag could be. I wanted to make a tote for The Armoury’s customers that would not normally consider a tote bag.
To make the tote feel more masculine, Frank, Ian and I started with a more square shape to the bag, rather than one that is wider than it is tall. Then, we shortened the handles to make them more reminiscent of briefcase handles. One of the most useful aspects of a tote is that you can carry it on your shoulder, so we modified the edges of the bag to hold brass D-rings that could attach to a shoulder strap. Frank makes beautiful leather straps and I think they look best in a narrow width so that was added to the bag along with a sliding pad to make it more comfortable on the shoulder.
I actually prefer fabric tote bags over leather tote bags. I like that fabric tote bags are more lightweight and quite casual. However, fabric tote bags tend to deteriorate a lot faster than leather bags. So, I went for a mix of leather and an interesting synthetic material called Sunbrella cloth. Sunbrella cloth is normally used on outdoor furniture. It is waterproof, stainproof, sturdy and lightweight, a really great replacement for leather. It has a deep twill which gives it the appearance of a heavy, high quality cotton fabric, but even longer lasting. The “frame” of the bag is all in leather, especially in parts that would see a lot of friction, such as the bottom, the handles and the top edge of the bag.
With travel in mind, pockets are of course very important, so we put in a big zippered pocket for keeping valuables, and a big leather patch pocket that you could keep your phone and other small items in. Also, when travelling, sometimes you find your bag on its side or even upside down when it’s in a luggage hold. To prevent things from falling out, we added a zippered top. It’s also quite useful against pickpockets!
I’m quite pleased with how the bag turned out. I tend to use it for the weekend or when I’m travelling by plane. With the combination of leather and fabric, it has a semi-dressy Ivy look to it so I like it with sport jackets jackets as well, though I wouldn’t use it for suits.
Clematis (Ortus) Portfolio
This item is not really a collaboration item, it’s simply an item that is very important to me and that I like very much. It was made by one of my favourite craftspeople, Komatsu-san. He is one of the most dedicated craftspeople I know, making virtually flawless items and with subtle but deeply thought out designs.
I commissioned this item back in 2012 and it has served me extremely well. It is a variation of Komatsu-san’s design “Caltha” with some additions to make it more practical. I added several pockets for keeping small items as well as pen loops. I also requested Komatsu-san add a hand strap on the back of the case. By running my fingers through it as I hold the bag from the bottom, it feels more stable and secure. It’s especially important for me as I frequently carry my laptop in this case.
One of my favourite parts of the design is the one-piece construction. Rather than use panels joined together with stitching, Komatsu-san makes this portfolio with one long piece of leather that folds over onto itself, forming the body of the portfolio and also the flap that closes it. He hand selects the best piece of leather possible, with no visible natural flaws such as scars, stretch marks, etc., showing off the beautify of ultra high quality leather.
When I travel, I almost always bring this portfolio. It is an excellent substitute for a business briefcase when going from meeting to meeting. It looks appropriate with a suit and it holds everything I usually need for a day of meetings. Typically, I carry my laptop, notebook, papers, pens, business cards and a phone charging cable. On a one-week business trip, the Caltha portfolio and a tote make for a handy combination as I would have something for casual and formal occasions.
Komatsu-san visits The Armoury HK and New York once a year to take orders. We keep a limited stock of his items in our stores, contact email@example.com for details.