I like things that last a long time and age well. There’s something about owning something for so long and seeing that story in the scuffs and patina of the object. It also teaches you something about patience. Natural patina takes time. The wear and tear of every day life adds to the story. Of course, there are ways to artificially age objects and create that “distressed look.” I’ve tried it myself but it only leaves you empty, a feeling of manufactured story telling.
My first leap into this obsession started with my Saddleback Leather Messenger Bag I got on September 2013. I wanted something to replace my typical nylon laptop bags. New, the bag is super stiff due to the pigskin lining they use. It makes the interior really resilient and easy to clean but it also means the interior likely will look new forever. I got a chance to take the bag with me on a trip to Sayulita Mexico to break it in. Over the course of the next two years, the bag really broke in, especially as I bang it around from daily work. It softened up really nicely.
A few days ago, I decided it was time to jump onboard and switch to the larger briefcase (top left in the picture below), along with a few other obsessive-compulsive purchases (the pouch and the travel case).
I personally like the “new leather” where they’re less selective about cutting out stretch marks and scars in the leather. The Internet went on a big rampage and fuss over this change but for me, that’s why I love these bags. I know that these are not the best bags that money can buy. I had my eyes set on a really expensive briefcase from Marcellino or JW Hulme. While both are beautiful and professional, I ended up again with another Saddleback because I wanted something I could rough around and be okay with that. To me, the high end bags are like buying a premium luxury car. It’s capable but you really won’t want to take them off road. Saddleback is like a rugged Jeep that you feel okay knocking around and know that it’ll look good banged up. My briefcase shows some slight stretch marks on the back but the rest looks pristine. The second change that Saddleback made was a more suede-like pigskin instead of the plasticky lining. This was the deal maker for me. I like this softer and more natural look than the previous generation styles.
Like my last experience with my messenger bag, this unboxing experience was the same. It comes out really stiff and not really usable out of the box. Here’s my break in procedure. I roll it around, jump in it, hit it, scuff it up a bit, and then stuff as many magazines and books as I can in it and leave it hanging over night. The weight stretches out the bag a bit. After three days of this, it’s softened up enough that I feel like I can start using it as my every day carry. For the next couple months, I plan on being a little rough on the bag including tossing it in the car and tossing onto the ground. No need to baby it.
Like a nice leather pair of shoes, it’s going to hurt for a few weeks to months but the effort is well worth it. Here’s a pair of undyed leather shoes I got in Italy in May 2014. It started out as a really light yellow color. I wore this pair painfully through Venice and Rome on the cobble stone walkways. After months of sun exposure, dirt, rain, and wear, it fits like a charm.
Back to my Saddleback briefcase. I made a few modifications. The edges are unfinished intentionally. The owner says it’s to show the quality of the leather. Frankly, finishing leather edges is a lot of labor and would add significantly to the price. Unfinished edges are fine, look rugged, and fits within the design of the bag. In this case, I wanted my edges slightly finished. I rubbed it lightly with some high grit sandpaper, wet it down with some water, and ran it over with a cocobolo wooden burnisher on my dremel. The high friction and heat causes the leather to harden up into a nice rounded edge. I then hand rub the edges with a bar of Otter Wax.
If you read the reviews on the Saddleback bags, the common theme is that they’re heavy. I look forward to packing it with my work documents and equipment and lugging it out in 2016. My 2016 resolutions is to be mentally and physically resilient. This is a chance for me to test out that physically resiliency.