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How great things age: Dunhill box

26 November 2010
There’s no getting away from it, this is a dinky man-bag. It’s made from stiffened vegetable-tanned leather, and so has a rigid and natural appearance, but it is still a small bag for me to put things in.

Technically, it is called a pochette. Some of the luxury houses, including Zegna and Zilli, still sell them; but generally they have gone out of style. I can understand why. When the average man is afraid of carrying any bag that is remotely elegant, a small box that nestles into the wrist is going to be a hard sell. (It even has a loop of leather to slip your wrist through, though I don’t use it and it slides discreetly away.)

When I first bought the box, five years ago, I was rather uncertain about it. I never thought I would use it. I was wrong. It was a slow burner and had to wait for the rest of my sense of style to catch up, but now I use it almost every day. The size is perfect for wallet, phone, keys, notebook, pen and perhaps gloves. Most of which I would otherwise carry in my jacket, though I know I shouldn’t.

Essentially, it performs the role of a hand bag. And aren’t they useful?

This post, however, is meant to be more about how beautifully the box has aged. It is part of the Alfred Dunhill collection, which is all made in the Walthamstow factory in North London (see factory report here). That means the leather is hand-cut and bench-stitched. The hardware is all brass.

This mid-tan shade of leather is wonderful for developing patina. I am guilty of buying too many pairs of shoes in this colour (which don’t go with my mostly dark suits) because I know how well they will age. The Edward Green Oundles (see post here) are a good example.



You can see where the sweat of my hands has stained the leather along the bottom, even leaving a tab-shaped patch of unblemished leather behind the fastening. It can be off-putting, this staining, as it’s not instinctively how you feel leather should wear. But having chatted to a couple of leather-makers about the effect, I was reassured that it is all part of the beauty of age – a briefcase’s leather handle will always become darker over time in a similar way. And while you can reduce the effect by cleaning the leather, you can’t remove it completely.

The Alfred Dunhill collection usually comes with a tub of very waxy polish, which should be applied every few months to keep the leather from drying out. It is similar to treatments recommended for all leather luggage and is so waxy because it needs to moisturise such thick, hard skin.

As an aside, if you ever have a pair of new shoes that need softening up, I recommend applying a little of this luggage polish to the problem area. I used it on the vamp of a pair of Edward Green Asquiths that were cutting into my toes and it worked very well. Don’t overuse it though, or it will make the leather too soft and wrinkly – add a little bit at a time and reapply if necessary.

I hope the posts in this series demonstrate how luxury items can reward an initial investment many times over. That is the reward of classic, handmade items that are well chosen and well maintained.

I wasn’t sure this box would become one of those, but I am extremely glad it did and I look forward to another five years of visual, tactile and functional pleasure.