When I travel by plane, I use a virtually indestructible LuggageWorks rolling carry-on. It’s great for getting through airports and attaching my other bags to, and I never have to worry about it being damaged when gate-checked because it’s extremely durable and already ugly as sin. Did I mention that it’s also ridiculously heavy?
LuggageWorks bags have a metal frame around their bottoms and backs which is part of why they last virtually forever, but it means that the 22″ version I have weighs 15 pounds when empty and can weigh 30+ pounds when fully packed. Although it is just fine for airport wrangling and for slinging into luggage compartments, this much weight does not make for an item that you’d want falling when you’ve pulled over and opened your SUV’s hatch to grab a Diet Coke from the cooler. Not that this has ever happened to me before, mind you, but it did happen to Kev. =/
When I travel somewhere by car, I prefer to use a different type of luggage. Since I won’t be navigating airport corridors or running to catch a connecting flight, there is no need for a heavily armored bag that rolls. Because there is zero chance of my luggage being gate-checked and then man-handled by gorillas once out of my sight, I don’t mind carrying something much nicer; the problem was that I didn’t have a truly fantastic travel bag until recently.
This February, Tom Skalczyński of Aligata, a Polish manufacturer of leather iPad, iPhone and MacBook Air cases, mentioned to Dan and me that he was considering offering a line of weekend travel bags. His idea was to produce extremely well made leather luggage as opposed to the typical rubber or ballistic nylon fare that you see people dragging behind them on wheels. He had made a few samples, and he included a link to this picture which showed his handmade Big Weekend Travel Bags made of Black Espresso leather, Nippon leather, Nude Beauty leather and a waxed canvas and Nude Beauty leather combination. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t impressed and intrigued.
photo by Tom
Because he was planning to produce these travel bags and sell them on the Aligata site, Tom offered to send me a review sample in Nude Beauty with yellow stitching; he knows from past experience that this is my favorite combination.
Nude Beauty is basically a raw, untanned leather, similar to the vachetta that Louis Vuitton uses as trim on their monogram bags; it’s just like the raw, untanned full-grain leather used to make western saddles. Over time and through much use it develops a magnificent deep brown patina, but in its early years it requires more care than a tanned leather bag; raw leather is extremely susceptible to water spotting, random staining, scratches, and a number of other minor calamities that a tanned bag could survive without damage.
Nude Beauty Leather
Premium, thick, genuine bovine leather. It has very elegant, innocent, clean look.
Its surface is full grain, which means that the original structure of the surface has been retained (as opposed to corrected grain leathers, where surface has been torn off and printed artificially).
It is undyed at all. No toxic chemicals have been used during the vegetable tanning process.
Nude Beauty leather is very vulnerable to dirt and liquids. You have to be careful not to stain it with coffee or any other colorful liquids.
Nude Beauty leather will get darker and softer when used regularly. It will additionally darken when exposed to sunshine.
To make the leather softer, darker and more stainproof, you can treat it with neatsfoot oil, mink oil or leather grease.
For me, the fact that raw leather shows everything is actually part of its allure; I have found that there is nothing more beautiful than an aged, naturally tanned leather bag that tells the story of its ownership.
Some time in March, Tom had his workshop craft me a custom Big Weekend Travel Bag in Nude Beauty leather with yellow stitching — he even went so far as to put my name on the bag’s front oval badge, instead of their usual lowercase aligata logo in small Optima Bold. While my bag was being produced, Tom was traveling, and as usually happens, after returning he got busy with other things. When I heard from him again in July, I had just about forgotten about the bag, but Tom assured me it was happening, but he had some good news and some bad news.
The good news was that he had made my bag. The bad news was that it had been in storage for over two months … and because it wasn’t kept in a perfectly dark room, the Nude Beauty leather had begun the natural tanning process from nearly white (which is how the leather appears when brand new) to the next phase – which looks almost like a light peach.
This would have been just fine, but because the weekend travel bag was inside its sleeper — a protective cloth bag which has a velcro fastening strip at the top and a round leather patch near the bottom — those thicker areas on the sleeper had kept the travel bag from tanning evenly. Tom wrote me to say
My heart almost broke when I saw it! I love these Nude Beauty bags so much, they are so beautiful, so clean, so innocent. Such a big sheets of pure, thick, perfect leather. I keep them in [the] dark, in special covers, I protect the handles with cotton to avoid staining them, I yell at everybody who tries to touch them with not-perfectly-clean hands.
I wasn’t worried at all.
Until Tom mentioned on Google+ that he wasn’t sure he would be producing the weekend travel bags after all, as he had decided to focus on his existing lines.
Tom sent my bag, and as warned, I found that it was sporting a racing stripe and oval on its front side.
Not that it really mattered, I was certain that it would be no problem to “fix” the bag.
The Big Weekend Travel Bag measures approximately 20″ wide (measured at the bottom) x 14″ tall x 12″ deep. Bear in mind that this all leather bag is slouchy, so it seems even wider and deeper than the inches stated might imply.
This picture from Tom shows how large the bag is …
But as this picture (also from Tom) shows, you can make the bag a bit wider and taller by unfastening the side buckles. When that is done, it measures approximately 16″ tall x 29″ wide x 12″ deep.
The naked, seemingly white bag in the pictures are of a Nude Beauty that has never been in the sun. Tom has told me before that when his crew is working with this particular leather, they have to wear gloves so that the oils from their skin doesn’t transfer over; this will also begin the darkening process — it really is that delicate — at least in the beginning, anyway.
When my bag arrived, as the picture from Tom had shown, it was absolutely beautiful even though unevenly tanned. I immediately wrote him and said that he had to offer these for sale. It would be almost criminal to possess the means to produce these bags and not do it! Offering the travel bags in three different leathers meant that there should be no problem making a bag that anyone who wanted one could manage … and seeing what similarly sized leather travel bags cost on the web convinced me that there was a market, especially since Tom’s version was larger yet cost less than most.
West Texas has been unbearably hot this summer; we’ve broken records for the number of 100º+ days we’ve endured along with the insufferable drought we are dealing with, so although this hasn’t been a good year for our livestock, we do have the perfect weather to tan a leather bag … which is exactly what I set out to do.
I placed the Big Weekend Travel Bag on our east-facing front deck, and for about two weeks I rotated it every possible way so that it would catch sun on every bit of its surface. I even left it outside overnight several times, knowing that there wouldn’t be a surprise rainstorm coming along to spot the bag. After it had been tanning for about a week or so, I unbuckled the bag’s sides. I did not use any products on the leather until the very end, and then it was only a gentle leather conditioner.
As you can see, the result of my patience was a gorgeous honey colored patina, one that will only deepen with age and use. i also now have a bag that can withstand car travel without worry of damage.
The Big Weekend Travel Bag has two generous rolled leather handles on its top. The leather buckling tab running under them is probably unnecessary, but it sure looks good. There is no shoulder strap, but the handles are strong and unless you are completely over-stuffing it, the bag is not too heavy when filled.
There are two things I love about this picture; the first is that the oval has my name embossed in it, and the second is that you can really see the unique grain of my bag’s naturally tanned leather. Okay, a third thing: I love how the yellow stitching really pops against the leather. =)
All Aligata products are handmade of full grain,premium, thick bovine leather. Full grain means, that the surface of the leather is not artificially corrected in any way. You can tell it by many small imperfections, glitches, little scars on the surface. Generally, if you see a leather product which surface is perfect, this is 99% not natural grain.
Take a closer look. You will see on Aligata cases the lines, where the cow bent its neck!
You can sometimes see (if you get really close) very small holes in the leather. These are the places, where horseflies bit the cow’s neck! Seriously!
Each Aligata case is unique. There are no two exactly the same!
All you have to do is look at my bag to see that it’s true; even though there may eventually be an army of bags that are similar to mine, there will never be another one that looks exactly like it.
Running across the top of the bag is a 32″ long zipper with two 1″ pulls. The only thing that I would have liked to have seen would be YKK logos on the zipper pulls, but that is me being extremely picky.
That long zipper allows the mouth of the bag to open w-i-d-e; which means that you won’t have to remove everything in order to find something near the bottom of the plaid lined interior; it also makes the bag easier to pack.
Worth noting is that the entire opening is lined with a stiff leather band which holds the bag open and ready to receive your items.
Inside the waterproof fabric lined interior, there is an 18 wide x 10″ tall zippered pocket on the back wall. This is a great place to stow socks and under garments.
On the front of the interior pocket, the Aligata logo is embossed in a leather oval. This branding is so subtle and classy … it just adds to the overall elegance of the bag.
The bottom of the travel bag has six metal feet; ostensibly these are to protect the bag, but in reality it will always be a good idea to inspect the area you are considering before setting the bag down. Unless you waterproof it, this bag shouldn’t be put in puddles, mud, or other filthy places.
And this is the sleeper bag, and yes — you can see the oval and the velcro rectangle that had left their mark previously. Also worth noting is that the sleeper bag has my name embossed in the front leather oval.
I love that the Big Weekend Travel Bag will only grow even more beautiful with use; because it is natural untanned leather, it will continue to darken over time. Now that the bag has a solid base patina, an occasionally rub down with a gentle leather conditioner is all the maintenance it should ever need. If my bag ever does get dirty, saddle soap will likely remove the worst of it.
Now for the best of it: this is the only piece of luggage that I own that has ever received compliments from everyone who has seen it. The Weekend Travel bag stopped my ranch foreman in his tracks when he came over yesterday; I had it sitting on the couch as I worked on this review, “Gorgeous bag!” he exclaimed, and I definitely agree. My bag also elicited compliments from a friend when Kev & I used it to carry our clothing and other necessities to her home; it is so big that it was the only bag we needed for an overnight stay.
If the majority of your trips consist of you standing in a TSA queue, then this will not be the bag for you … and that’s okay. In that case, you really should look at the LuggageWorks carry-on bag that I use when I fly. But if you want a bag that was created for traveling by car, one that will make a positive impression upon arrival, one that will only get better with age, and one that might even last longer than your lifetime, then you should look no further than the Aligata Weekend Travel Bag.
The Aligata Premium Leather Big Weekend Travel Bag ia available directly from the manufacturer. Each bag is handmade to order, so you will need to allow up to 8 weeks for it to arrive. If the idea of Nude Beauty leather completely terrifies you, ask Tom about making you an Espresso Black or Nippon leather bag instead. But I hope that after seeing my bag and reading about my experience, you’ll see that owning a Nude Beauty is not that scary. =)
MSRP: $599, but Gear Diary readers get a $100 discount when they use the code GEARDIARY100, personalized with up to five letters
What I Like: This bag was made for me in my choice of leather, with my choice of stitching, and it is embossed with my name; bag is extremely well made; leather is gorgeous, and it will only get better with age; with proper care, this bag should outlive me
What Needs Improvement: I would prefer YKK zippers, but I have no reason to believe these will fail