Leather-specialist Frank Clegg is one of the few manufacturers left in Fall River, a Massachusetts town that was at the centre of the American industrial revolution. As soon as you drive into Fall River, this history is obvious.
Mills are large buildings and need lots of light. In Britain, traditionally this came in through so-called sawtooth roofs: a zig-zag shape that allowed windows to be placed in the top of the building, bringing in the sun. This was less common in the US. Roofs were usually kept flat but there was still the need for light, and the large rectangular buildings had sides filled with long windows.
Driving into Fall River, as soon as you look beyond the McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts signs, you see a preponderance of large, long buildings, with hundreds of windows down the sides.
At one point this was among the richest towns in the US. Today, sadly, much of the industry has vanished. Frank Clegg is in one of the few mills to still contain manufacturing. And its 18,000 square-foot space is home to what I consider to be some of the best men’s leather bags around.
Pieces like the zip-top briefcase ($990) manage to be sleek and contemporary, yet practical and masculine. This particular model was also the bag President Obama chose when he wanted an American-made briefcase.
In the UK there is a strong tradition of bag-making, but derived from the saddlery industry – and therefore focused around heavy, oily bridle leathers and chunky hardware. Italy and France, by contrast, usually produce bags in treated and printed leathers, with flimsy zamak.
For me, the sweet spot is halfway in between: natural, veg-tanned leather with minimal brass hardware. Simple, functional designs, with all the focus on the beauty of the materials. This is what Clegg makes.
The range includes a collaboration with Michael Bastian: the Michael Bastian duffle bag ($1,250) and tote ($795). I have a large working tote ($700) in chestnut tumbled leather, and a tall leather tote ($700) – they have served me very well since I bought them (in 2011 and 2013 respectively) and I regularly recommend them to friends. There aren’t many stockists in Europe, but both Richard Gelding and Fenwick have a small selection in London. And the Frank Clegg website itself is both popular and user-friendly.