35 Years Perfect: The Frank Clegg English Briefcase

What makes something a classic? For starters, it helps to have timeless design and durable quality. Also important is the intangible ability to remain stylish, relevant, and useful year after year.

With the recent resurgence interest in handcrafted menswear and heritage brands, the role of the simple bag has been elevated to something akin to choosing a life mate. For men, finding the right bag is a journey through emotion, practicality, personal expression and, more often, provenance. Who made it and how? What kind of leather was used and what tanning process employed? Was it made on an assembly line or by a single craftsman?

When it comes to finding a good bag, here at OTC we are openly biased toward one of the most skilled leather workers in America today – Frank Clegg. You can read more about Frank and his remarkable skill and craftsmanship here.

In additional to being a wonderful guy, a gifted designer and artist, and willing teacher, Frank also helped define what we see today as the most classic of all soft briefcase styles – the English briefcase.

20 years ago, Frank was asked by Cole Haan, then the standard bearer of high-quality men’s leather goods, to come up with a new briefcase to sell under the Cole Haan label. Frank was already producing a Cole Haan collection at the time, including another classic brief, his Leather Lock bag.  The new bag, a design he had been manufacturing himself for 15 years, was based on the traditional, academically influenced English dispatch case. Simple, classic, functional, and manly.

The simple part caused some consternation once the design was unveiled. Several of the Cole Haan folks thought that the bag’s body straps were too difficult to use and might be a turn off to potential buyers. The bag was too old-fashioned, it wasn’t sleek enough, or fresh enough, they said.

Frank stuck by his guns, saying he knew that it would be a hit. His own experience had shown him that the quality and design would win out, and he was right. The bag became an instant must-have and one of Cole Haan’s most popular ever. And 35 years later, it’s just as great now as it was then.

For both men and women, the English briefcase represents a back-to-basics approach that combines timeless styling, old world charm, and function.

As bags go, it is simple, straight forward, and purposeful. Double gusseted with signature rounded and polished edges, a large interior zippered compartment, pen slots, card sleeve, and two multifunctional pockets.

In addition to the full-wrap body straps that secure its contents and full-length rear newspaper pocket, this bag also sports another Frank Clegg innovation, the signature all-leather wrapped handle. Deceptively simple looking, making this durable, stylish, and incredibly comfortable handle is a feat in and of itself.

In addition to the traditional offerings, this year Frank has produced a special anniversary edition of this outstanding bag, in hand-stained wild American Alligator.

This 35th anniversary edition of the English briefcase is simply unparalleled. The wild alligator hides are purchased directly from the hunters, custom tanned and hand-stained and finished in Frank’s Fall River, MA, workshop. As this item is made to order, you should allow about two months for delivery. And, at US$7,500, it’s not really an impulse buy. On the other hand, your kids will fight like heck to see who inherits it.

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