The first time I spoke to Robin Bennett, we were in bed. I was at home being lazy, but Bennett – on the other side of London – was confined with a broken leg. He’d been hit by a car and had spent the previous three weeks in hospital having various things screwed together around his knee and ankle.
For an initial interview about men’s style, it involved a lot of discussion about safety and leg braces. But we also found time to talk about English-made bonded canvas. Bennett is one of the founders, along with Robin Winch, of bag company Bennett Winch, and it was the smooth cotton canvas of the shop’s bags that had first appealed to me.
I initially saw the bags at Marylebone menswear outfitters Trunk Clothiers, specifically the olive Weekender, and as soon as I took it down from the shelf I noticed the quality of that canvas, as well as the full-grain, vegetable-tanned leather and brass hardware. I later learned that the canvas is actually made of two layers of cotton bonded together, making it water-resistant.
The second time I spoke to Bennett, he, Winch and I were in a café in central London. His leg was healing well, now fully encased in a brace that inflated in order to support it from all sides – “Nike Air on steroids”, as he put it. It was then that we were able to go through the full range, from the key Weekender (£495, first picture) to its smaller cousin the Commuter (£395, second picture), the backpack (£395, third picture) and the tote (£295, fourth picture).
There were also several structural points that were hard to appreciate until pointed out. The Weekender, for example, has a waterproof section at both ends that can be extended into the body of the bag – for shoes, towel etc. The Commuter has a similar detachable waterproof compartment, and all have padded sections to carry laptops. In fact, rather like the canvas itself, all four styles look simple but are quietly ingenious. “Most details were driven by our needs,” says Bennett.
The world of men’s bags and accessories is not an easy one to break into, but things are looking promising for Bennett Winch, which is now also stocked at Private White VC on London’s Duke Street and is rapidly expanding its reach. It will be fascinating to see how Bennett Winch pushes its approach to materials and innovation as it expands into new markets.