Review: Badger & Blade
High End Briefcase Comparison
The following is a review of the Mitchell Classic Briefcase by Joel Ferman, one of the founders of Badger & Blade. The Mitchell case was compared with several other briefcases and you can read the entire article here: Badger & Blade High End Briefcase Comparison
When your hand glides around this bags handle as you scoop it up mid-stride you can’t help but be taken with how natural this bag feels in hand. Everything about this bag is as it should be, like a lifelong friend had designed it for your specific needs. How it sits on your shoulder, its perfect balance in hand; the number of pockets – not too many which would force them to be too small, yet not too few as to be a one trick pony, its “just right” size, everything about this bag is just seamless and perfect. Jerry Mitchell’s (the late founder of Mitchell Leather) lifetime obsession with creating the ultimate briefcase has been an indisputable success.
Things you don’t typically consider in a briefcase stand out like a Mary-Kay Pink Cadillac at a biker rally. The weight distribution and balance of a briefcase with different weights/loads? Who would consider designing a bag around this? What’s the value? Well I thought it was a little silly until I badly dislocated my knee and found with other briefcases loaded up, I couldn’t get halfway across the house without them slipping off my shoulder or twisting out of my hand and pummeling one of my dogs who constantly shadow me. With the Mitchell? Even with a bum immobilized leg, the fully loaded Mitchell is almost unnoticeable when strewn across my shoulder… it feels like an extension of my body. It’s difficult to explain just how well designed every detail of this bag is – but a few pictures and a review on how these bags are created does the best job at painting the picture.
Every stitch on this bag is perfect. I don’t know how to quite describe it, or show it visually in pictures – but the stitching is something inexplicable, it takes a VERY keen eye to spot they double stitch high stress areas. Stitching and sewing leather is an incredibly difficult task – let alone perfectly hitting the same holes twice, which takes decades to master. The interesting thing with a Mitchell though is not just that you’re getting a skilled hand making your bag – it’s the fact that there are only two gentlemen who make Mitchell bags so you know the name of the craftsman making your bag and talk to him about how you'd like each element. Dave Mitchell, the son of Jerry Mitchell and an Argentinian gentleman by the name of Bernardo, who has been working for Mitchell for around 40 years.
Where the proprietary secret lies in the bags impeccable stitching is in Bernardo, who is in his 80’s and has been working with leather/stitching his entire life. Bernardo handles the most difficult stitches on the Mitchell bags and with seven decades of experience, you can be assured you’ve probably got the most skilled and experienced leather craftsman in the world making your bag. Whenever the bag catches my attention, I can’t help but admire and contemplate the history and tradition Bernardo has stitched into the bag.
The leather? It feels as though it’s been marinated in clarified butter and silk extract for six months prior to shipment. While the other high-end bags in this test are drenched in good to excellent quality leather, the Mitchell is hoisted onto a new level. It’s both incredibly thick/rugged, while being sinfully soft and luxurious to the touch. They stockpile some of the finest hand selected leather in the world – sparing no cost. Finding higher quality leather is highly unlikely as due to their small production levels, they’re able to use a quality of leather not possible for larger firms to reliably source.
Since these bags have been handmade and constantly improved over the last 40 years, they have an array of interesting patented features, which improve the look, feel and longevity of the bag. In fact, from time to time Dave Mitchell has customers come into his shop with 30-40 year old bags, that have seen daily use – and they’re still in great shape. The internal zippered pocket is incredibly handy/useful, the key holder is the easiest to use and most effective, the patented modular handle feels the most secure and sports the sleekest profile, the velcro side pocket is the most useful, the latches have a brass sleeve over the clasp which rotates, to make it slide up and down the leather when latching and unlatching the case making it the quickest/easiest buckle to manipulate and the interesting brass feet adorned in leather strips protect the bottom of the bag.
The feet are particularly noteworthy as with a handmade/stitched bag, the most vulnerable part of the bag is the bottom. Your heavy items in the bag put the most strain on the bottom stitching, and as your bag is put down day after day on hard and occasionally rough surfaces they found after 20 years or so of hard use, some bags would begin to have problems with the bottom stitching. Granted, the damage can be easily repaired – but it was deemed as a problem nonetheless, which was solved with the assistance of these incredibly smart looking feet…
Mitchell bags are primarily custom made to order, in fact if you go to the factory in Milwaukee you can hand pick the leather for your bag and if you’re so inclined you can take part in a few of the processes involved in making it, such as cutting the leather and such. While they do occasionally have a few in stock (ignore the stock on their website, it’s out of date and they’ve sold all of the bags offered for sale on it) they rarely have more than 1 or 2 available to purchase. Colors (even incredibly sharp looking two-tone bags), leather types, you name it.
No two Mitchell’s are exactly alike which adds to the exclusivity of these bags – and exclusive they are. Sporting a price in the four figures range and with an output of about four briefcases a month, you never have to worry about someone else sporting the same bag at a boardroom meeting. What you will have to worry about however is the amount of time you’ll spend talking about the bag when interested strangers stop you – and rest assured, they’ll stop you. A few weeks ago, a gentleman sporting a snazzy Hartmann stopped me, asked me about the bag and when he found out it wouldn’t be an easy thing for him to purchase directly, he tried to buy the bag off my shoulder right then and there!
Expensive? YES. Exclusive? YES. Drop dead gorgeous? YES. A purchase that will last a lifetime? YES. Worth it? YES, YES, YES! In fact, I’ll eventually be buying at least one additional case in two-tone black/brown pebble grain leather.
6 Month Follow Up- Briefcase Comparison Review Update from Joel at Badger & Blade
I'll start working on part two in June, but so far so good. The Mitchell has stood out as a being the clear pick of the litter. Even when cost is factored in, the tremendous quality of the leather, the impeccable stitching and the simply world class design stand out as the clear differentiator. There's not a case, at ANY price, designed better than the Mitchell.
The Saddleback has proven to be a nice bag and is clearly a quality piece, but it's just too darn big/bulky. It's wide at the bottom, and more narrow at the top, and the excessive hardware all over the place adds unnecessary weight, and makes it look more like a day bag, than a classy, or classic briefcase. Nothing wrong with this from a style perspective, but from a practicality perspective, the bag is just way too bulky/heavy for day to day use. If you do actually load it up to capacity, unless it's with feathers, or something equally light (maybe a shirt) you're likely looking at it being around 50+ lbs. When it's not full (which is 90% of the time) it's a bit unwieldily. Really this bag makes a tremendous light travel/adventure bag, which seems to be more its intention. As an out and out briefcase, it's just too bulky and hardware laden. A gentleman I work with has had a Saddleback for a few years - and the first time I met him I had the Mitchell sitting on my desk and he immediately remarked "Wow, that's a gorgeous bag." He's now planning a trip to Milwaukee to go pick out the leather for a Mitchell in person. Nothing wrong with the Saddleback, it's a great bag, and it's quite a bit less expensive... but toe to toe, it's out classed by the Mitchell in design, leather quality, stitching quality/accuracy, easy of use, etc.
The Hlaska leaves much to be desired. While it fits my slim/sleek round-edged macbook pro with ease, my 15" Lenovo W500 barely fits and it's quite difficult to manipulate the zipper around its edges. Also, it's lack of pockets (with the only interior pocket being unable to fit a laptop power supply, which makes it somewhat worthless) and inability to expand/accordion make it narrowly focused. It's certainly nice looking and when my iPad finally shows up from Apple, might make a good iPad case, as the iPad will be small enough to allow sufficient real estate for paperwork, etc.
The Solo is extremely functional, and makes for a surprisingly nice case. With that said, it's showing the most wear (admittedly, the Hlaska isn't getting as much use as the others though, so it could be a tie - and over the next 6 months might change as the Hlaska sees more use with the iPad). Net-net on the solo seems to be - it's a superb case for very little money, but you're looking at a couple of years use out of it, before it starts to look ratty or falls apart, which given it's price tag, it's a big deal. Consider you can get five Solo cases for the price of the next case up in this comparison - and they offer cases with rolling wheels, airport approve laptop "quick check" inserts, etc.
So far, the two clear bags i'd shell out my money for in a heart-beat would be the the Solo, and the Mitchell. The solo being practical, downright "inexpensive" option which offers a-typical features and the Mitchell being the "pinnacle" - leaving nothing to be desired, and being completely bespoke, allowing you to customize every color, closure, leather type, etc.
joel (at) badgerandblade.com
Mitchell Leather Factory