First and foremost, if you want a bag that will last a lifetime you need to chose the right leather. By this, I mean the part of the hide that is used to make the bag. There are a few different grades of leather, but for the quality that lasts a lifetime, you want to be using full grain leather. As the name suggests, it leaves the full grain of the leather intact, meaning that it is not sanded for smoothness.This means that it is the highest quality grade of leather available. It is the strongest, most hard wearing and, due to its tight grain, also the most water resistant. This is the leather that showcases all of the little imperfections of each hide thus making each piece unique. It also allows the bag (depending on how it is finished - more on that later) to develop patina with use. When people talk about leather getting better with age, they are talking about full grain leather.
It would be easy to assume that all mid to high-end handbags are made from this grade of leather. This is not the case, the vast majority of handbags are made from what is known as Top Grain Leather. This leather is the grade below full grain and has had it’s natural grain sanded and removed to give it a smoother more uniform appearance. It can then be painted or given a fake texture as to the manufactures wishes. This results in a bag that has more of a fake appearance and does not gain patina or get better with age. In addition, with the removal of the grain, the leather loses a huge amount of it’s durability. Once purchased, a bag constructed from Top Grain Leather can only go downhill in appearance. Just for the record, I’ve seen plenty of handbags up in four figures constructed from this grade of leather. It is important to note here that leathergoods (handbags in particular) are definitely examples of consumer goods where high prices do not always mean high quality or long-lasting. You can often be paying huge amounts for a brand or a style rather than the quality of the bag itself. Now, for some people that is fine, handbags are collectables and if you treasure them and are very precious with looking after them, they will still last a long time.
Personally however, I would not be best pleased if I spent £1000 on a bag that started to look like Mrs Doubtfire with a few drinks on board.
For those interested, there are grades of leather below Top Grain Leather too. One in particular is one that everyone will be familiar with, although it may be a surprise to many of you. Everyone has turned over a belt or a wallet at some point and seen the stamp 'Genuine Leather'. Most people will see this and think, “Great, it’s made of leather”. Whilst this is technically true, what a lot of people don't realise is that “Genuine Leather” is often a term used for another grade of leather. It is lower down the chain for quality, appearance and longevity. It will not wear well and it will not last a lifetime.
The only grade below genuine leather is something called ‘Bonded Leather’. To be honest, I don't even consider bonded leather to be leather. It is the scraps from all of the other leathers ground up, glued together and given a finished to make it look better. It is junk. It will fall apart quickly with use. Buyer beware.
Right, so we’ve established that if you want long lasting and top quality, you need to be looking for Full Grain Leather. To be honest, as far as the materials are concerned thats about it. Obviously, you want to be sure that the linings and fittings such as zips etc are of a high quality, but you should not have to worry too much about this. Any maker using a full grain leather is obviously striving for perfection and would not be skimping on these relatively (compared to the leather itself) cheap parts. It would be like Ferrari making a beautiful car and then cutting corners at the last minute by using elastic bands instead of seat belts. It would make no sense to ruin a full grain leather bag with cheap fixtures and fittings. A quick hands on test should tell you the quality of these parts. One quick point to note, that many people overlook, is the threads used to sew the bag together. Obviously, a bag will only be as strong as it’s weakest link so make sure your bag is stitched using the strongest and most durable threads available. The manufacturer should be able to provide his information.
The only other factor in determining the quality of the finished bag is simply who’s making it. As I mentioned in my Cashmere Blog
, you can have the best materials in the world but if you give them to the wrong manufactures your bag will still end up looking like a mask from a low budget horror film.
In the past, it is true that Italy had the prestige of the best leather workers in the world. They have a long history of working with leather and their techniques are honed to perfection. In this day and age however, it doesn’t really have much to do with the country of origin. Over the years, these techniques have filtered out into the rest of the world and now there are incredible bags coming out of Britain, Europe and America to name a few. It all comes down to each individual brand and their striving for quality. A brand making great bags will always gain a reputation, so do a little digging and you'll soon find out who's making quality and who's making tat.
From a quality and longevity point of view, that’s pretty much it for what to look for in leather bags and leather in general.
Basically, a brand famed for workmanship using Full Grain Leather will give you a great bag.
The design and how it is finished all comes down to personal preference really, so that’s up to you to choose what you like.
For us, and I imagine many people reading this,The Bridge handbags rank among the best bags on the market today and this is where this article picks apart exactly why we think that. For those of you that already have Bridge bags or those of you that are considering them, lets take a look…
Firstly and most importantly, The Bridge pride pride themselves on using only the best materials for their products so as you might expect, they construct their bags from the highest quality Full Grain leather. Secondly, they use high quality robust linings and solid metal fittings. They hand stitch each bag together with threads sourced from Germany and for those interested, the threads used are universally acknowledged as the best around. They have unsurpassed strength whilst also complimenting each bags aesthetics. They therefore tick all of the boxes with regards to the materials used.
As anyone who has an old Bridge will attest, that these bags lifespans are measured in decades and generations.
They really do last and, thanks to the tanning process that The Bridge uses, they get better with each passing year. For those unsure, 'tanning' is the process whereby the hide is treated to make it stronger and longer lasting. It is basically where the hide is turned into what we commonly know as leather.
In our opinion, it is this tanning process that really sets the Bridge bags apart from other bags. The vast majority of leather (around 80-90%) undergoes what is knows as chrome tanning. Basically you throw the leather into a vat of chemicals, salts and acids over night and then paint it the desired colour. Its quick, cheap and ultimately produces leather that is thin, soft and can be painted easily. However, it also incredibly toxic to the environment, smells like chemicals, can crack after a few months and needs to be handled very gently if you want it to last. Its popularity is due mainly to the fact that it is quick and cheap. As with any product though, the words “quick” and “cheap” are not usually indicative of quality. If you want quality and longevity you do not want the words 'quick' and 'cheap' to be in the design brief. For example, I imagine that people who go sky diving do not sit in the plane thinking,
“I hope this parachute was made quickly and cheaply!!”
As you will probably have guessed by now, The Bridge does not use this tanning process. They prefer to use natural Vegetable tannins for their leather. Vegetable tanning is a highly skilled process using natural tannins and can take up to 60 days to produce. The obvious disadvantage of this, is that skilled workers taking lots of time pushes the price up. However, the benefits you get from vegetable tanning outweigh the negatives tenfold. It is this process that produces the strongest, longest lasting leather. It is this process that gives that beautiful leather smell that you associate with quality leather. It is only with this process that you get that rich, warm tanned patina so sought after with bags such as The Bridge. It is only with this process that the bags age well and get better with use. The oils from your hands nourish the leather and give it depth. When combined with full grain leather, vegetable tanning produces bags that are unique and natural. Variations in the leather are exhibited rather than hidden whilst the leather itself is incredibly strong and resilient. Scuff most handbags and that's it, they're scuffed for life. Scuff a Bridge handbag and you can just polish the mark out of it should you wish. Many people, however, love the look of a used leather bag that exhibits its wear and tear over the years. It adds character to the bag. Again, it is only with leather processes such as those used by The Bridge that you get leather that improves as it is worn in. Other bags just start to look like they're falling apart.
There is a big difference between a bag looking "worn in" and a bag looking "worn out".
To cut to the chase, it is this natural tanning process that makes The Bridge so special and distinctive. It takes a long time, is labour intensive and requires a huge amount of skill. Ultimately though, it produces infinity more beautiful leather that will last a lifetime. The higher price of the leather is unquestionably worth it.
Once the leather has been tanned, the final stage is actual construction of a bag. This again is really where The Bridge comes into its own. Whilst other brands are clamoring to be noticed in a market swamped with lurid throwaway pieces that wont last a year, The Bridge sits calmly in a workshop, meticulously handcrafting beautiful pieces of leather for those who appreciate true quality. This company ethos is one that becomes instantly clear when you come into contact with their bags. Every tiny detail is perfected from intricate stitch work on a bag like this
to the brass fittings on something like this
. Each bag is designed to be as practical as it is stylish. Both form and function are of equal importance to The Bridge which results in bags that can be used every single day for a multitude of purposes.
To really get a sense of how good The Bridge are you need to see them in the flesh. Photographs on the internet simply don't do justice to the look and the feel of the quality.
For us, this really is the tipping point for why we rate The Bridge above all others. They pride themselves on their reputation for outstanding quality above all else. There is a subtlety and a natural beauty to each bag the just exudes effortless style. You do not need to match a Bridge to an outfit. A Bridge in the traditional tan colour goes with anything because the quality of the leather itself is the 'look' of the bag.
There are no slogans and no gimmicks with a Bridge bag. There is simply a beautiful piece of leather and an impeccable display of craftsmanship.
Bringing this piece back to my sentiments at the start of this blog, the obvious question would be "where are the Bridge made??". As it happens, The Bridge are in fact "Made in Italy", starting in Florence in 1969. The Bridge though, are not fantastic bags simply because they are Italian. The Bridge are fantastic bags because they use only the best materials and the best workmanship from start to finish.
The next time you're thinking of a investing in a proper bag, come in and try a few Bridge on for size. You won't be disappointed.
See you all soon...