Mitchell leather - Milwaukee, Wisconsin

srivats

Super Member
In my continuing series of leather artisans from the USA, this thread is about Mitchell leather based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I came to know about them just a few minutes ago from my other thread on current/dream briefcases.

I did a quick google search and found the following two reviews from the badger & blade forum. The bags Mitchell leather make are quite expensive in the $1000 and up category, but they are beauties. I strongly recommend reading the FAQ page from their website. I will describe the patents they mention in my next post.

And without further ado, on to the review and photos.

There are a few indisputable belongings gentlemen around the globe covet. Amongst the exclusive laundry list of fine items reside automobiles, timepieces and leather goods but at the root of all these lavish items lies the derivation of our interest – the craftsman. While the look, feel and design of a piece may catch the eye, it’s the tremendous skill, attention to detail and relentless pursuit of perfection a craftsman has bestowed upon an item, which really commandeer our interest. Simply put - gentlemen are naturally drawn to items, which exude impeccable quality as it stands as a tribute to the remarkable skill and dedication of our fellow man.

For most men, a briefcase is not merely a luxury, but a necessity. With such a heavily used item, holding our most important business items, the question must be begged – is it worth buying the best? Sure, for many a $300-400 briefcase may sound uncanny, and a $1,000+ case purely absurd, but if a $400 briefcase lasts 10X longer than a $100 briefcase, surely it’s both a sound fiscal and emotional decision, yes? Like many gentlemen – I believe in the old adage “Buy quality - cry once” – however I also develop bonds to well made, quality items and appreciate their distressed and unique look as they age, like the butterscotch color of a well used meerschaum pipe. As the laptop has become a fixture in the world of business – the lowly laptop case has become an acceptable replacement for a gentleman’s briefcase – but like many here at badger and blade, I like to be a little different and I like to have things with more style, history and character.



With this in mind – I took it upon myself to set out and find the ultimate luxury leather briefcases for men in varying price ranges/styles and report back in three stages. 1 – the initial report 2 – thoughts/opinions after 6 months of use and 3 – how they’re holding up after a year or so of typical use.

Without further ado, let me introduce the four subjects of this piece – introduced from least expensive, on up.

<SNIP>

#4 – Mitchell Leather Classic Briefcase – MSRP - $980 to $1180





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.

Spacious three compartment interior - with an "accordion" design to expand as needed...


Handy, perfectly sized front pockets residing under the front cover/flap...


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.

Center compartment has a spacer secured via velcro which you can move/arrange to fit multiple sizes of laptops and hold your valuable electronics tightly to prevent it's movement and aid in proper balance...


Easily holds a 15.4" Lenovo W500 while keeping the bag slim/trim, but still allowing plenty of accordion expansion if additional items need to be carried...


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.

The most difficult part of the bag to sew - done with absolute perfection - despite the tricky shape/thickness changes...


Beautiful stitching/spacing and perfectly rounded around the edges - all done by hand/eye...


Stitching masterpiece...


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.

Bernardo sewing...


Bernardo clamping...


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.

A portion of their factory with some of their hand selected leather....


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.

Internal zippered pocket...


Back of the case with the essentially "hidden" velcro pocket...


Incredible handle - and the velcro pocket open (Note: this is a VERY high quality velcro, doesn't make much noise when opened, yet has a very secure closure)....


Key ring holder....


Rotating brass sleeve to allow the strap to glide in and out...


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…

Feet and the bottom of the bag showing its accordion design...


Foot close up - showing the hand cut, matching piece of leather hand glued into each of the eight feet - everything on this bag is about finite attention to detail...


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!

Close-up of the buttery smooth leather and it's natural grain...


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.

Size comparison of the different bags, in relation to my full-size Dachshund - some of these bags are mighty large...

[/FONT][/SIZE][/I]


... and the second review:

A little over a year ago Joel completed a High End Briefcase Comparo as a belated kickoff to this great sub-forum (The Haberdashery). In his comparison he reviewed , Saddleback Leather, and Mitchell Leather.

Like many who read his comparison last year I was absolutely smitten with the quality and craftsmanship of the cases from both Saddleback and Mitchell Leather.:001_wub::001_wub: However, to be honest the Solo and Hlaska cases didn't do anything for me at all. :bored:

I started digging and doing a little research. I just couldn't imagine paying a grand for a briefcase (or even $500+ as in the case of SB Classic Briefcase). However, I was impressed with both Joel's review and the appearance of the SB and Mitchell products. Based on Joel's thoughts on the SaddleBack I simply wasn't sure I'd want anything that heavy or rugged in appearance. So instead of deciding to rush out and order a case I decided to start small and test the waters. My wife ordered me the in dark coffee brown from Saddleback Leather. I figured the wallet would allow me a glimpse of their craftsmanship and the quality of their leather. I decided to go with the coffee brown because of all the colors available from Saddleback it was my favorite. Right away I could tell the craftsmanship and quality of the leather was top notch. The bi-fold looked like something Indiana Jones would carry around. I also quickly noticed that it weighs a ton. I could only imagine what a large briefcase would weigh. Looking at the dark coffee color and reflecting on Air Force expectations I also came to the conclusion that I'd have to get a basic black. The majority of the time that I'd need/want to carry a briefcase or attache I'll be wearing either a suit or the military equivalent, service dress. When wearing my service dress uniform (like those pictured below) if I want to carry a briefcase it must be black and "conservative".

US_Air_Force_Mens_Service_Dress.jpg


Since the dark coffee brown was out of the picture I needed (yeah right, needed :001_rolle) a sample of a black leather product from Saddleback. So, I did the responsible thing :lol: and ordered a from them. Once again, like the large wallet I got from them the craftsmanship was superb and the quality of the leather was outstanding. However, just like the wallet it was very thick, and much heavier than similar products. The carbon black bears a dull flat appearance and since I'd be carrying my case while wearing classier clothes I simply couldn't go with Saddleback. The more I looked at pictures of them and read reviews on them the more I felt like Saddlebacks entries into the briefcase world simply have to much metal on them. While I like the idea of converting the case into a basic backpack I simply wouldn't have a need for it so all the extra buckles, clasps etc. were a bit of a turn off for me. Ultimately weight, the overly rugged (Hollywood adventurer) appearance and the dull finish of the Saddleback products helped me eliminate them as a possibility for a case.

So, now I had to ask myself what to do next? How do I sample Mitchell Leathers goods? Well as luck would have it they do make a small leather that is quite affordable. As I started thinking about what I may want in a case I decided to email Mitchell Leather and get their opinions. To my surprise I got a return email from Dave Mitchell the owner of the company. He asked that I give him a call so we can discuss my interests. All it took was one phone call and I knew without a doubt that Mitchell was a company I wanted to do business with. I explained my situation and my needs/interests. Dave quickly explained it was all too easy. I asked about getting one of the money clips made with my leather choices so I could see first hand the contrast of the leathers. I decided to go with the Black Italian Steel leather for the outer and a soft gray for the inner. Dave said, it wouldn't be a problem and a couple of weeks later I had a one off money clip in the leather combo I was considering for my case. I was very impressed with both the quality of the Black Italian Steel leather and the quality of the craftsmanship that went into such an affordable product. So, once again I fired off an email to Dave. I told him I wanted to start with their as a foundation for my case. I told him I had a few additional requests. I wanted my case in Black Italian Steel (outside) and light grey leather (inside). My hope was that the contrast would give it a touch of style and make it easier to find items inside the case. I also told him that because I'd be using this case while in uniform I needed all of the metal accessories (buckles, feet, handle parts etc.) to be in a silver finish. This was my first and only roadblock with Mitchell. He told me that they did not offer their metal parts in any finish other than brass. This was going to be a problem for me and not something I was willing to settle on. All of the accouterments of my military uniform are polished silver. I told Dave thank you, I'd consider it and get back to him. As I was thinking about it I considered something we've seen done around here several times.... plating! I got online and started searching for plating services in the Milwaukee area. I found a great company and called Dave back. I asked him if he'd be willing to build my case as I requested if I'd pay for the plating of the parts. He said, he'd contact the company and get back to me. A couple of days later I got a phone call from Dave and he was onboard with my idea. So, I payed a deposit and the work was started. I asked Dave if he could send me some pics of the case in development and to my surprise he did! :w00t::w00t:

I imagine the process went something like this:

My leather would need to be selected from the impressive array of leather in their warehouse.

Once the leather was selected the assembly process could begin. As Joel mentioned in his original comparison:




Here Bernardo is seen sewing part of a case.

The assembly process is really quite impressive. The care that goes into every stitch is simply unbelievable. As Joel mentioned in his review:



Here are several shots of Bernardo working his magic on my specific custom one of a kind case:

5239889025_fb3b9108dc_z.jpg

Pre-stitching the Gussets

5239888147_6e23348abf_z.jpg

Briefcase Parts Cut and Partially Assembled

5239888883_a992f51a45_z.jpg

Gusset Strap Holder

5239889137_5f8e46a2b5_z.jpg

Assembled Flap

5239888683_cf546520f2_z.jpg

Sewing the Strap

5239888559_81232e7f45_z.jpg

Stitching Flap Detail

5239888235_8d32e1b886_z.jpg

Assembling the Lower Front

5239888413_3ebe85eeec_z.jpg

Installing the Handle


Bernardo Clamping

I asked Dave when I made the deposit on my case if he'd be kind enough to take some pictures of the assembly process. He was happy to oblige. Once again I was blown away by the level of customer service and detail. If I were in the states I have no doubt that I would have taken the time to go to the factory and pick out my own leather in person. Mitchell Leather is a family business and is still run like a true family business.

Dave sent me the photos above when my case was ready. I made the final payment and it was on its way.

I couldn't wait! :drool::drool:

Much to my surprise my case arrived only 4 days after being shipped from Milwaukee, WI. I was amazed, remember I live in Japan! :w00t::w00t:

Like any great AD here on B&B I had to document this momentous day.

Below are pictures as I was unpacking my new pride and joy:


It's here, It's here! It's finally here!! :w00t::w00t::w00t:


Opening the box I discovered it was well packed...


..very well packed...


...very, very, very well packed!!

I was absolutely astounded at the level of care and precision that went into every aspect of this case, even the packaging was impeccable. This case could practically survive in a war zone the way it was packaged up.

5240038997_f698aaa813_z.jpg

Finally after a year of debate, research and communication I had my case in hand. The smell of leather filled my house! :w00t:

The moment of truth had arrived. My case was in hand and all I had to do was take it out of the large ziplock type bag. I was absolutely dumbfounded by the fantastic odor that filled my living room. I got my case in nearly two weeks ago and my house still smells like new leather! :w00t:

Keep in my mind, my goal was basic, elegant and classy.

Here are pictures of my completed case:

5240039925_a33e4b1e25_z.jpg

Exterior

5240039433_3cf376f82a_z.jpg

Interior

In the picture above you can see the business card holder, four pen holders and the removable key holder. The pen holders are different sizes and will accommodate everything from a standard cross pen to larger pens like my Parker 21's.

5240476186_66c08ccc81_z.jpg

Overhead Interior Shot

The Black/Gray contrast is fantastic.

5240477768_4dca07ff0e_z.jpg

The beautiful and highly functional handle as well as the nearly invisible rear exterior pocket.

The handle feels fantastic in hand and evenly distributes the weight of the case and its contents. The rear/flat pocket is perfect for folders, papers, newspapers etc. The velcro used to close this flat pocket is of a very high quality. It is nearly silent when opening but is very strong/sturdy.

5239881229_bb0694461f_z.jpg

Closeup of the divider used to secure laptops from 11-17"

5239881059_3d8e549ece_z.jpg

The divider can be turned around for smaller laptops or other items.

5239880339_32b2227f6b_z.jpg

The divider as I need it to secure a 13" MacBook

5240477022_29432409dd_z.jpg

Interior Zippered Pocket (Great for cables and other small items)

I turned the pocket out so you could get a rough idea of its size. This pocket easily holds all of the cords and cables I need for my various electronic devices.

Below are a few closeups of the detailed stitching on this case. Can you see where there are double stitches, I bet not!

5240470974_1ab80a5a14_z.jpg

Front Flap Buckle (beautiful stitching)

5240470440_30a12098c9_z.jpg

The Perfect Carrying Handle

I've had this case for nearly two weeks now. I've looked it over countless times. It is nearly flawless. I am amazed at the level of craftsmanship that has gone into this custom one of a kind piece.

I've been carrying it back and forth to work to get a feel for it and how well I like carrying it. I have to say it is a pleasure to carry and the compliments are never ending. The quality of this case is evident to anyone I come across. The wide shoulder strap helps to evenly distribute the load no matter how I carry it.

I can carry it just by the handle, with a single shoulder assist or cross body for heavier loads:
5239878135_a846262321_z.jpg

One Hand Carry
5239877759_8a71ddc484_z.jpg

Single Shoulder Assist
5239877383_7c2ee1c591_z.jpg

Cross Body Carry (for heavier loads)

So after reading all of this and seeing these great pictures you must know this is a masterpiece as far as briefcases are concerned but I'm sure many of you are curious how much it will hold. Luckily in my zeal to share this case with all of you I've got that covered as well. I'll be flying to the states in a couple of weeks for the holidays so I decided to see if I can get all of my "goodies" into this case for the trip. Fortunately, I was able to fit everything I'd like to have in a carryon:

5240469218_18722fabce_z.jpg

Everything I'd hoped to fit

These are the items I'd hoped it would hold. Our flight to the states is very long so entertainment and comfort are a must.

Pictured above:

13" MacBook (stored in a neoprene sleeve, not pictured)
Mac Magic Mouse
2x Bose Noise Canceling headphones
Camcorder
Camera
Small tripod
iPhone
iPod
Sony eBook Reader
2x Books
Sunglass case
Saddleback Leather Notebook Holder
PSP
All associated cables for electronics

What do you think, did it all fit?

5239873437_56404df702_z.jpg

All loaded up!

Everything fit, but could I close it?

5239878473_b4dd6ed71e_z.jpg

Fully Loaded and Closed

Not only was I able to get everything I wanted in the case it was still very easy to lift/carry. The handle holds up great and the shoulder strap helps distribute the weight.

I cannot stress enough just how high quality this item is. This is the nicest accessory I've ever owned and the process in having it designed and built was absolutely a pleasure.

Dave Mitchell of Mitchell Leather is carrying on a family legacy any family could be proud of. He was always a pleasure to talk to and was always eager to work with me to achieve the end result I was looking for.

It is very cool knowing that I was the first person ever to receive a Mitchell custom case with polished nickel parts in a design exactly as I envisioned it. It is also cool to know that it was custom made specially for me. There are other manufacturers out there who make quality goods, Saddleback comes to mind, but they are still mass produced/faceless factory items. No one in the world will ever have a case exactly like mine! :w00t::w00t:

Mr. Mitchell and Bernardo are absolute masters of their art.

If anyone is interested in possibly purchasing a Mitchell and have any questions please don't hesitate to ask in the responses or PM me, or better yet simply give Dave a call I know he'd be happy to help.

All in all the process took a couple of months from concept to completion though I suspect it is typically faster than that. I knew making a special request for polished nickel accouterments would slow things a bit. It was worth every single second of extra time!

Mitchell Leather is most definitely "Luxury in Leather"!!!

5240479476_a9956d0a2d_z.jpg


A year after his initial comparo Joel had this to say about Mitchell:



I have to admit I have absolutely ZERO buyers remorse. Even the Mrs. (The frugal member of our family) is thoroughly pleased with my choice in going with Mitchell Leather for my custom case.
 

CMDC

Honors Member
Thanks for posting this. I've walked past their factory a bunch of times but never knew what it was. Its located in an old industrial/warehouse part of the city. Glad to know that there is still manufacturing like this going on in Milwaukee. The bags are gorgeous but way out of my price range. The wallet/money clip, though, I may have to try.
 

srivats

Super Member
Here are the important images from their patents:

Mitchell Leather said:
First, is our patented Modular Handle with Integrated Frame. Instead of attaching the handle to leather at two points as is commonly done with a stitched and riveted technique, our handle is screwed through a long steel plate that is sewn in between two layers of leather and stretches across the entire width of the top flap of the bag. The purpose of this is to transfer the stress from two small points in the leather to the entire long steel plate. Whatever weight is being carried by the handle, is spread evenly across the entire width of the steel plate. In order to prevent the steel from hurting the leather by cutting through it over time, we make special leather "pouches" that are fitted around the ends of the plate to encapsulate the edges. Also, because the handle is screwed through the steel bar and two layers of leather, if something were to go wrong with the handle, it can be replaced in a matter of minutes.

Cq33S.png





Mitchell Leather said:
Second is our patented Resistance Pouch. Unlike most bags where stitches and/or rivets have to carry the entire weight of the briefcase, ours has two pieces of Velcro stitched into a pouch that forms our strap holder. When tension is applied to this pouch, the force is spread across the entire surface area which includes the Velcro. By trapping the Velcro in place inside the pouch, much of the force is dissipated as the two opposing pieces of material (hook and loop) try to move in opposite directions but cannot. This technique has been so successful that customers who carry a lot of weight in their bag for many years actually wear through the solid brass hardware instead of the leather and the stitches! When this happens we can quickly install new hardware at no charge.

dHWyM.png
 
Last edited:

srivats

Super Member
Thanks for posting this. I've walked past their factory a bunch of times but never knew what it was. Its located in an old industrial/warehouse part of the city. Glad to know that there is still manufacturing like this going on in Milwaukee. The bags are gorgeous but way out of my price range. The wallet/money clip, though, I may have to try.

You should definitely go talk to them and take a tour!
 
Your email address will not be publicly visible. We will only use it to contact you to confirm your post.

IMPORTANT: BEFORE POSTING PLEASE CHECK THE DATE OF THE LAST POST OF THIS THREAD. IF IT'S VERY OLD, PLEASE CONSIDER REGISTERING FIRST, AND STARTING A NEW THREAD ABOUT THIS TOPIC.

Deals/Steals

Trad Store Exchange