If you’ve been reading menswear blogs for a while, there’s a good chance you have a dusty Filson 256 sitting somewhere in your closet. During the height of heritage menswear era, Filson’s tan canvas briefcase was tremendously popular because it neatly slotted into almost any wardrobe — workwear, prep, or even tailored clothing. It’s simple and classic, with a sturdy construction that inspires confidence, and has internal dividers and slotted pockets for organization. I imagine thousands of men, like me, sat on their couches late one night, with a hand in a Cool Ranch Doritos bag, reading Filson’s tag line — “Might as Well Have the Best” — and nodding, “hell ya I might as well have the best.”
Filson’s 256 is still a solid choice if you’re looking for a briefcase. Its popularity has inspired tons of similar designs, but there’s something iconic about the original (much like original Barbours). It retails for $325, but is easy to find on sale at about 25% off. If you’re looking to buy one, Filson Fan has a good comparison of the 256 against the larger 257 (tip: get the 256).
Like many guys these days, I find I’m slightly more interested in offbeat takes on classics than true classics themselves. And recently, I picked up this South2West8 painter bag, which feels like the Filson 256 on psychedelics.
South2West8 is one of the lines operating under the umbrella company Nepenthes, a boutique retailer with several locations around Japan, as well as New York City’s garment district. As a shop, they carry choice labels such as Gitman Brothers and Rough & Tumble. They also have a family line of in-house brands, which includes Needles, Needles Sportswear, Engineered Garments, FWK by Engineered Garments, EG Workaday, and South2West8.
These labels are known for their creative takes on workwear and adventuring gear. They have slightly strange silhouettes, no-good-reason pockets, and at times senselessly patched together constructions. The clothes are weird, but not so weird to stray from a more classic look, and they’re relatively easy to wear with something as simple as slim-straight jeans and sneakers. They fit into that “reworked classic casualwear” category we talked about a few weeks ago.
South2West8’s painter bag is great for these sorts of wardrobes. It’s made from a tan cotton canvas — plain weave, instead of twill, but a branded fabric called Sunforager that claims to be water resistant (not as much as Filson’s, I’d say, but good enough for normal rainy days). It has two outer pockets — a large zippered one to carry things such as computer chargers, then a side pocket for a water bottle. The cleverly designed straps allow you to carry this by hand or on your shoulder, like Filson’s, or even use it as a backpack (kind of goofy looking, but the option is there).
Best of all is the price. For a bag that’s designed by a Japanese company and then made in the USA, I was surprised to find this is only $152 shipped. You can barely get a button-up in a fancy boutique nowadays for that kind of money. One of the employees at Nepenthes tells me they’re able to get good prices because the bags are shipped directly to the NYC store from the US factory, which means customers don’t have to shoulder the cost of international shipping and duties. That explains why this same bag is more expensive in Japan, whereas their Japanese-made outerwear is pricier in the US.
The bag isn’t perfect. I wish the stitching was a little better and finer. Sometimes companies lower the stitch count like this because it saves them on time and money, but in doing so, the resulting item can look a bit rough. The leather also isn’t as thick and sturdy as Filson’s, and the interior compartment could really use some organizational pockets. It’s basically a tote bag with some clever straps and two outer pockets, but it’s light on the wallet and looks very cool.
To order, you’ll have to call or stop by the Nepenthes store in NYC. They also have other South2West8 bags, such as the La Crosse briefcase for $208. The construction on these could be a little better, but they’re less ubiquitous and fun to use. If you’re feeling tired of that Filson, you might as well have a West (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
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New York, NY 10018