In a world where menswear accessories brands are a “bespoke” dime an “artisanal” dozen, Frank Clegg is the constant. What began as a hobby for Frank during the early seventies has now blossomed into one of the last great luxury leather goods companies in America. For over four decades, Frank has worked out of his Fall River, Massachusetts studio to create a line of bags and accessories that recapture the days when a solid leather bag was a man’s trustiest sidekick. I had a chance to speak with Frank about his brand’s past, present, and future.
To start off, how did Frank Clegg as a business begin, and how did you first get involved with making bags?
I started in the business in 1970 when I was given a few tools as a gift. I realized early on that I was able to make just about anything I wanted to without much effort, so I began selling pieces as fast as I could make them. Not just bags and briefcases, but boxes, chest sets, plant hangers, just about anything that could be made from leather. We were all experimenting in those days!
You’ve been in the business for over forty years, how have you seen things change over that time?
Over the past forty years, things have changed so much; yet at the same time, they’ve stayed the same in a lot of ways. The products I initially started with back in the day are popular now because our younger customers cherish the leather goods of the past for their quality and their honesty. I’ve kept the same direction for all these years, and the thing that’s helped me the most is being able to design and quickly produce collections for myself or for others.
From start to finish how long does it take to create a bag (specifically the double gusset briefcase which you sent me) and what goes into that process?
For a bag like the double gusset zip top briefcase, it usually takes a complete day to make if I’m doing it by myself. Sometimes longer, depending on how long it takes for the dye on the edges to dry.
How do you approach designing a bag? Is this typically a certain style or era that you pull inspiration from?
There are so many things that influence what the final outcome on an item will be. In general, I start with shapes. I think of shapes that are appealing to the eye, and these shapes are the basis to the design in all of our bags. Once I decide on the shape, then I detail that shape for the specific feeling and function that I want the bag to have. I’ve always aimed for simplicity, and in simple designs, the details really matter. They must become one with the bag without looking like a last minute addition. As with any design, function should always dictate the direction. They have to serve a purpose. My constant goal is to create premium bags so that even someone who’s not necessarily into fashion will be able to recognize that a Frank Clegg bag is an impeccable product.
American-made luxury leather goods are few and far between these days, and yet, particularly among the younger, savvier generation, they’re more sought after than ever, so how has your business changed in the face of both the export of most leather manufacturing, and the “Americana heritage” movement that was started around the early 2000′s?
Over the years, most of my customers have felt that my style represented a sort of American design ethos. And to a certain extent, it’s true because I’ve never sought to reflect the any sort of European designs. It’s always been about having a uniquely American feel with a certain level of refinement. I tend to use a minimalist style, accented with some slight touches to make the products more appealing, but also functional.
The problem with the luxury industry today–even in America–is that making money is more important than making something that people will be drawn to because of the inherent artisanship of the product. I’ve always felt that quality never goes out of style; it truly is a timeless element. I’m finding now that many within the younger generation appreciate the principles of true craftsmanship and the results of that precision.
It’s so much easier to have someone else make your products and to just be a salesman, but it’s a lot harder to handle all aspects of what’s needed to take the concept from prototype to final product before it reaches the hands of the customer. We are vertically integrated, so we are one of the few brands that actually still do this today. We have extremely high quality control standards and it’s made my business stronger despite economic fluctuations. I like to think what we’re doing is what America needs more of: people who are willing to put integrity, originality, and caring above the dollar.
You have collaborated with several bloggers in the past, so how do you currently view the internet-based menswear movement?
Over the past year we have had a few collaborations. These just happened. When I speak with someone and there are some good ideas that come out of our meeting, it sometimes feels right to put a product together. The Internet has changed the menswear market, because it’s fueled a passion for many consumers. Obviously, the menswear market hasn’t always been this strong. At the same time, we’ve actually always done well with our men’s products, and luckily for us they’re more popular than ever at the moment. Over the years, the women’s market has always been a strong one for us too, and we’ll be reintroducing some women’s items and adding new pieces to that collection this year.
Going forward, where do you see Frank Clegg heading?
As we go forward we will be adding many new products, for both men and women. Bags, luggage, belts, new cases and some completely new items. We want to continue to establish the brand as a company that has control of everything we release, and we want to reflect that fact in our products.
Huge thanks to Frank Clegg for taking the time to speak with me.