One of the nice things about writing a menswear blog is that I get to meet people who actually make things. Bespoke cordwainers, tailors, and even the occasional fashion designer – people who produce the things that many of us love. A few years ago, I met Bellanie – the co-founder and craftswoman behind Chester Mox – when I was searching for a leather card case online. Since then, we’ve become friends, and I’ve had the fortune of seeing her skills as a leather worker develop.
Recently, Bellanie graduated from an apprenticeship with a master craftsperson, and her whole line has undergone an overhaul. She sent me couple of pieces (on loan) to check out, and I can genuinely say: I think she’s setting new standards for what men can expect for their money. The last time I’ve been this impressed with a brand was with Meermin – that Spanish shoe company that, I believe, has redefined affordable footwear. I think Chester Mox is now doing the same, except for high-end leather goods.
Chester Mox’s new line is almost completely different from their old. They still make things from Horween leathers, but they also have some new materials from French and Italian tanneries – including those used by luxury houses such as Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Perhaps most importantly, the entire line is now saddle stitched by hand (including any internal components), and Bellanie’s technique is very, very good.
As some readers know, a saddle stitch is when two needles are passed through the same hole, either with an awl first piercing that hole and guiding one needle through, or with holes punched by hand using a pricking iron. This is the same technique used to sew moccasins or construct handmade luggage, and you can see it demonstrated in this Hermes video.
The process is incredibly time consuming, but the results are beautiful. Compare these two briefcases, for example. The green one is from Chester Mox and the tan from Glenroyal. When a leatherworker sews by hand, he or she can punch much smaller holes than what a machine can achieve, so with a thick leather, you can have a sturdy bag that’s still very refined looking. Just compare these two stitches-per-inch counts. If you tried to get something this fine with a machine, the leather would tear, much like the perforation on a stamp.
Hand stitching also allows for beautiful, slightly angled threadwork. Notice the threads angle a little as they move from one hole to the next, which differs from the straightaway threads on a machine-sewn seam. It’s a handsome detail – sort of like the decorative hand stitching you might see on finely made Italian suits or shirts.
Also improved is Bellanie’s edge finishing, where the edges are burnished, painted, and then polished. This both helps to preserve the leather and aid the aesthetic finish. On the Glenroyal bag, these parts are a bit rougher, with the paint unevenly applied and the line between the two leathers still visible (though, no knock on them, as most luxury-end leather goods look like this). Bellanie’s, on the other hand, are completely seamless and smooth.
Bellanie also loaned me one of her black alligator bi-folds to check out. The leather is soft and supple, the scales beautifully clean, and the leather doesn’t exhibit any of the dryness that you sometimes see in lower-end exotics. And while everything is still saddle stitched, the workmanship pops out more with the orange threads, which makes for a nice, subtle detail on the wallet’s interior.
Chester Mox is a small operation, with just Bellanie and her husband doing all the work. Since they’re the ones actually making the products, rather than hiring someone to do so, they’re able to offer very competitive prices. The briefcase is completely hand sewn, but retails for $780 – a fraction of the price of luxury brands, who would charge two to three times as much for something of similar quality. Wallets also start at $40 (although the photos used for older models are still being updated to reflect the new construction techniques). And since everything is made on order, modifications and even bespoke requests are possible. In fact, I’ve already ordered a custom eyewear sleeve to be made from that black alligator leather, which I’ll post photos of when I receive it.
Frankly, for the price point and workmanship, I think this sets a new standard for the kind of leather goods Bellanie is producing.