"Classic" Cambridge Dictionary definition: (adjective) having a simple, traditional style that is always fashionable.
One might say that all of The Superior Labor's designs are classic.They look towards the American "Golden Age" of workwear for their inspiration and they avoid trying to appear modern. The materials are usually traditional (brass and full grain vegetable-tanned leather and Japanese pure cotton canvas) and their manufacturing techniques similar or identical to those of yore.
This vintage look and the high quality instil a feeling of confidence tinged with nostalgia in the lucky owner of a TSL accessory, which only increases as it improves with age.
Because of this, selecting only 5 accessories out of the hundreds we have stocked over the years has been a serious challenge. I didn't want to write an article about our "5 best-selling TSL accessories", or even my personal favourites. I also deliberately avoided selecting one of our collaboration products because there's a lot of our own culture in their designs.
In fact, this article has been a tool for me to somehow define or at least illustrate that "certain something" that designer and craftsman Makoto Kawai manages to inject in every item that leaves their workshop. Call it "soul" or personality, there's a timeless aspect to these beautiful items that I have not seen elsewhere.
TSL owner and designer: Makoto Kawai. Photo credit C. Purcell
The 5 accessories presented below have been in their catalogue for a long time and will be for years to come. The pouch, money clip and coin case are ultra-simple designs, perfectly proportioned and made from carefully selected materials to feel "just right" in use. The other two items are more complex and are perfect to showcase TSL's leather crafting skills. All of them are very functional and perfect for daily use.
1. Engineer Pouch
The first TSL item I ever bought, was a khaki canvas Engineer Pouch in Takamatsu, a week before meeting TSL for the first time in 2015.
Available in 4 sizes, these simple pouches (a few pieces of canvas, a zipper and a lick of paint) can be used to add organisation to the inside of your bag, keep your smaller items in, protect your Traveler's Notebook or fountain pens, etc. The shape of the pouches is simple and elegant, reminiscent of TSL's legendary Engineer Bags. TSL use a very special canvas woven on vintage looms (from Belgium!) in Okayama. They make great gifts and are perfect travel accessories. I use at least 2 of them, whenever I'm on the move.
2. Brass Money Clip
A great, tiny accessory that will last for ever. Works well as a money clip, but can also be put to good use to clip an extra refill in your Traveler's Notebook, hold a ticket safely on the inside of the cover, etc.
Practicality aside, this is a beautiful looking item. The logo and decorative elements are exquisitely engraved, including a minute "TSL" logo on the inside. Mine has been on my Traveler's Notebook cover for 3 years and has oxidised to a lovely bronze-brown.
3. Zip Coin Case
TSL generally use one of two kinds of leather: smooth Japanese leather or a grained Italian leather. The Italian one is particularly well suited to smaller items like this one. The coin case's elegant circular shape fits nicely in the hand and the slim profile keeps it pocketable. The leather is stiff enough to protect the contents, several customers are actually using theirs to carry their earbuds safely.
4. Traveler's Note Cover
The Traveler's Note Cover is one of 2-3 items I would recommend in particular to customers who would like to see TSL's craftsmanship at it's highest level (we're talking Hermès quality). The TNC is exquisitely made and belies its compact size (A6 approximately) by being extremely practical. I've been using a navy blue one as a travel wallet for 3 years (we were the first store outside Japan to stock them) and wouldn't travel without it. Once again, TSL used their Italian leather for this design and I can confirm that it's very hardwearing.
It is sized to fit in the hand or most pockets and has pockets and card slots galore, hidden behind a discrete "classic" cover. Due to the care taken with the design, size and weight feel perfect and the leather is very pleasant to handle. The rounded edges and pockets are elegant and the gold foil logo and brass snaps stand out nicely.
5. Leather Pen Roll
The Pen Roll is one of those designs that looks simple but once you use one you will quickly realise how much thought has gone into it.
The rather unusual leather (Japanese) can have a lot of texture and feels a bit rubbery (it squeaks) when new. This texture looks and feels great and the spring in the material adds some cushioning to protect your precious pens. It will soften with use and become easier to roll up. The strap is just the right width and thickness, something most other manufacturers get wrong.
The pen roll is one of those items that you can't help picking up and fiddling with, it's such a tactile design. Personally I prefer to fold mine in two (easier to carry) rather than roll it up, but both work nicely.
As you can see in the pic, there's lots of room for pens and even a small notebook. If you look closely at the pen section of our Superior Labor x Nomado Store A4Writer's Organiser, you'll see that the layout is the same.
There are many other pen rolls on the market, but we've never been able to find one that gets so many things right.
To conclude, I would say that TSL put an incredible amount of work into designing their products and selecting the materials. The leathers are chosen for their appearance, but also for their behaviour in use (flexibility, texture, etc.). The retro styling is attractive and reassuring and definitely classic.
All of these items will become a part of your daily life, almost without your realising it. You will find that your coin case is always in your pocket, your passport in your Traveler's Note Cover and that you usually end up writing more with the pens you keep in your pen roll. Makoto Kawai is a magician...
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