Life Skills

How great things age – Permanent Style

  • Jan 28, 2024
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How great things age – Permanent Style

Lucas has had this canvas bag from Charlie Borrow for years, and I’ve always admired its rugged quality, particularly when we’ve traveled together. So I thought it would make a good entry in our How Great Things Age series, which of course has particular pertinence as part of our Dry January project.

Lucas has had it since 2017, and used it a lot – every day for long periods and (he estimates) probably three days a week on average for those seven years. It looks really great for it.

The body is a 24oz military-spec canvas, with the handles and strap similarly heavy-duty. The hardware is solid brass, and there’s a brass key clip on the outside.

The bag is unlined, with one external pocket sitting between the handle straps and two pockets on the inside (one canvas, one leather). The straps run underneath the body, which is the strongest method as well as a nice design element. There are lots of other details on Charlie’s site, as with all the other products.

As I asked Lucas about the bag, he began looking through his phone at pictures of it over the years.

The first one from 2017 shows it sitting on the floor of the London Underground, and it almost looks like a different bag. The canvas is green, there is no patina or colour variation. It’s flat and plain.

Subsequent photos all show it sitting on the ground somewhere, and this seems telling. Lucas has never been gentle with it, and has only become better.

“When I was travelling round Europe for Drake’s, doing wholesale, I’d basically live out of the bag,” he says. “The suitcase I checked in was crammed full of Drake’s samples, so there was no room for me.

“The size meant I could fit three shirts, a pair of trousers and some underwear, plus toiletries, laptop etc. And that was me for the trip, going through France, Austria, Switzerland.”

“The nice thing about the shape is that when you carry it as a day bag, with the clothes all left at the hotel, it doesn’t look out of place. A weekender style or something equally big in a different shape would look odd, but this doesn’t.”

The flatter shape also makes it easy to store, and the shoulder strap has came in useful. “I know a lot of bags have a shoulder strap, but it had so many uses for me – it meant I could carry the bag across my back when I was hauling the suitcase, loop it round something on a train for a little security, and take it off when I didn’t need it.”

When I meet Lucas in town he often cycles in, and it’s this bag that’s always slung across him.

“The most punishment it’s taken is probably last year when I was in Mexico,” he says. “I bought too much stuff, so had to ram this full of all my clothes and check it in alongside my suitcase, then use a shopping bag for hand luggage.

“I was a bit anxious how it would come out the other side but it was fine. There’s one place where it looks like there’s a hole, but the material hasn’t actually broken, it’s just been pushed apart by something sharp. The fibres are all intact.”

The bag-maker Charlie Borrow is better known for his bridle-leather totes (above), which are similarly tough and straightforward in make, usually unlined with riveted handles.

He has a workshop near Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, where he also works on old chairs, reupholstering or replacing covers. It’s a lovely space, and I’d recommend visiting if you have the chance. Although it’s open most days, it’s always worth making an appointment in advance so Charlie knows you’re coming.

Lucas’s bag is a standard design, loosely based on a pilot’s helmet bag, but Charlie also does different designs and requests – as we saw recently with reader Ben, who is also a customer and had a crossbody bag made to particular proportions (below).

I’ve never had a tote like one of Charlie’s in bridle leather, but it would be interesting to try some time. They’re not cheap, but it’s great to have the store and the quality is certainly top notch – if Lucas’s experience testifies to anything, it’s that.

In terms of functionality it would be similar to my much-loved Frank Clegg tote, but the look would be a little more rugged and workwear-adjacent. I also like the way the natural leathers acquire a patina – it happens within a few weeks, going from pale pink to a rich tan, highlighting all the wrinkles and stretch marks.

It would probably be excessive given I have that Clegg and an old LL Bean one as well, but perhaps one day.

Lucas’s pilot bag, meanwhile, is sitting on top of his suitcase as I write this, in Florence airport as we wait for our flight home from Pitti. And it looks so nice – a great example of quality construction that has aged very well, and will only carry on doing so.

Lucas Nicholson runs the Permanent Style shop and has worked on PS for the past three years. Readers that use the support service on the shop will have benefited from his advice. He has also written for PS in the past, here.

The pilot bag starts at £350 and a typical bridle-leather tote from Charlie Borrow is £875. Everything is made to order, but orders can be made through the website. Lead times are typically 4-6 weeks, although are slightly longer at the moment. Contact Charlie for an accurate lead time.

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