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Men's Fashion | The Sharpener

Keeping it brief

The classic briefcase has never lost its ability to bestow importance. Now a new generation is conferring style, too, says our new columnist Tom Stubbs

March 20 2013
Tom Stubbs

There would be a distinct lack of drama to the scene outside 11 Downing Street on Budget Day if the chancellor George Osborne appeared proudly holding aloft the Budget USB memory stick. However it was brandished, it could never have the gravitas of that famed red dispatch case.

The old budget box (or Gladstone, as it was named after the first to hold it, William Gladstone in 1860) had served nearly 50 chancellors when Osborne had to retire the fragile thing. Regardless of the substitution for an almost identical, newer model, the briefcase remains a symbol we all recognise. It bestows importance on its contents and its bearer, and if there’s one thing we all understand, it’s the need to be taken just that little bit more seriously. Importantly, it has no shoulder strap to crease and distort the lines of a jacket – and looks spot on with a suit.

And so, despite years of infraction by “man bags” and all manner of black velcro-fastening sacks, the briefcase is enjoying a renaissance, helped along by the new demands of technology – as laptops and tablets continue to shrink.

First up is Swaine Adeney Brigg for its incredibly timeless offerings, such as the handsome and slim Peel attaché case (from £1,795). It is available in black, Havana and chestnut, and finished with brushed brass hardware.

At JM Weston, the magnetic fastening of the Angle 3 means there’s hardly any metalwork on its streamlined, glossy black calfskin exterior (£1,430). Although an attaché format, its lines have been softened for a sleeker, sharper look.

For more of a Left Bank sensibility, see the super-chic, classic Sac à Dépêches briefcase by Hermès (£3,800), which dates back to 1928 and comes in a brown Togo calfskin. Meanwhile, its Etrivière case in Fjord and Hunter cowhides, with contrasting equestrian-inspired strap fastenings, is a cracking example of a softer, luxury case (£3,380), with unisex appeal and creative-industry overtones.

Still not convinced? Then consider an “alpha-tote” – the new hybrid man bag that combines a rectangular bowling style with two handles, adding a more relaxed vibe to smart business wear.

The majority of luggage and luxury brands have embraced this new format. At Louis Vuitton, the Porte-Documents Voyage styles in rich, natural-hued Nomade leather (£2,250) and its tactile, ridged Epi leather version (£1,410) are both knock-out hommes d’affaires accessories. Tod’s excellent made-to-order Double Stripe range (from £495) is available with customised options and has a business jet-set quality, while Smythson’s version comes in soft, chocolate-brown Taureau leather (£1,250) and Thomas Lyte’s Albemarle in petrol blue (£495), with a canvassed interior and understated appeal.

I like to carry my alpha-tote in my hand, or under the crook of my arm like a rugby ball. There’s something very unwieldy about wearing the shoulder strap across the body – it interferes with posture – so I unclip mine, leaving me free to walk totally upright.

A refreshing aspect of alpha-totes is their colour palette, which extends beyond the classic black, brown or tan, into more subtle, sophisticated options in pale neutrals. Valextra has pushed the colour boundaries with its new Ash shade (£1,580), which is almost other-worldly in its purity. President and CEO Emanuele Carminati Molina told me: “I asked my team for a new emotion in colour. We are famous for colour, and we use Pergamena [its ivory shade], but it’s not right for business. Ash is unconventional, and that is exciting.” It is also minimalist, with a real “look twice” quality.

The new generation of briefcases adds instant style and gravitas – in just the right proportions.

See also

Briefcases