'When you’re going through hell, keep going.' - Winston Churchill


The Filson Briefcase

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jul 22, 2014
Category: Gifts and Gadgets

It was a dark and stormy night, but I was warm as I walked up Madison Avenue, for I was wearing a Filson coat.

A man stepped out of an office building — Ralph Lauren. He looked me over. And smiled, because my coat looked a lot like something he’d make.

But it wasn’t.

“Filson,” he said.

“Might as well have the best,” I said, quoting the Filson motto, and, if truth be told, getting in a mild dig at Ralph, who laughed and stepped into a waiting car.

The important thing about that jacket, though, is this: I’d had it for a few years and it was still stiff. Like: bulletproof. It took several more years for it to soften. I wasn’t surprised. Clothes that last forever — that’s the Filson legacy, and it has been ever since Clinton C. Filson started outfitting miners and loggers in 1897.

It’s crazy to report that Filson has now made a product that’s “hot.” Its goods are not cheap and never discounted. They’re not widely available. If Filson advertises, I’ve missed every one.

So how is it that the Filson briefcase is showing up everywhere? And not with rugged outdoor types, like the guys you see running construction crews in Cialis commercials. The Filson briefcase is an urban thing. An executive thing. A style statement.

Actually this makes sense. We have entered a zone that prizes authenticity, and in a sea of products that look good but quickly fall apart, the Filson briefcase is so well designed and so well made it could be the last briefcase you’ll ever buy. At $248, that makes it a bargain. What if it glitches down the pike? Clinton Filson’s original pledge still applies: “We guarantee every item purchased from us. No more, no less. Your satisfaction is the sole purpose of our transaction.”

So what’s the fuss about? A 22-ounce, oil finish, cotton twill bag. Trim and tabs in tougher-than-your-beard bridle leather. An industrial strength brass zipper. A detachable strap. And room for stuff: 2 full length interior open pockets; 1 interior business card pocket; 1 interior calculator/cell phone pocket; 2 full width exterior open side pockets; 2 small exterior end utility pockets. Translation: It will hold a 15-inch MacBook Pro, a power adapter, a notebook and a Kindle. [To buy the Original Filson briefcase from Amazon, click here. To buy the larger Filson briefcase/computer case from Amazon, click here.]

A conundrum awaits you: what color? You have a choice of five: otter green, brown, black, tan and navy. If you’re like me, you’ll think tan is the classic. What you may not think: You’re going to have this bag — and any stains it collects — for a long, long time. Maybe black would be wiser. Or otter green. Or…

The conundrum that does not await you: wanting one. Because they are that cool.

Short takes

Two-thirds of a terrific book about “The Great Gatsby”

Did the film of “The Great Gatsby” leave you with Fitzgerald fatigue? “Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby” will revive you. Better, it will excite you, for Sarah Churchwell, professor of English Literature at the University of East Anglia, has focused on a single year — 1922, the year “Gatsby” was conceived — and delivered an original way to read the book.

1922 was the year the “Twenties” happened, and Churchwell gets it all: the dancing and boozing, the new slang, the lights and noise of Manhattan. And she chronicles, in greater detail than I’ve read elsewhere, Scott and Zelda. He kept detailed notebooks and scrapbooks, and they chart a year of ruin, much of it on the North Shore of Long Island: “February: Still drunk… April… Another fight. Tearing drunk.” His household budget recorded $80 a month to “house liquor” and $100 to “wild parties.” (In 1922, Fitzgerald averaged 100 words a day; elsewhere in 1922, Eliot published “The Waste Land” and Joyce published “Ulysses.”) So when Fitzgerald produced “Gatsby” in 1925, people read it the way we once read Tom Wolfe’s “Bonfire of the Vanities” — as a novel of current events. Riveting stuff. [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

If “Careless People” is so hot, why doesn’t it get a feature review? Because a third of the book is given to a sensational 1922 crime, the double homicide of an Episcopal sexton and a choir singer. The investigation was botched and the crime was never solved — it was just the kind of scandal that makes headlines and stays news. Churchwell believes Fitzgerald used the case to plot some of “Gatsby.” Maybe he did, but I tired of it quickly; if I had been Churchwell’s editor, I would have begged, on bended knee, for her to cut it. So will you. But if you skip that murder — Lord, that sounds strange — “Careless People” is a revelation.

Tom Fels: Shadow Work

When Tom Fels, my old friend from the sixties, isn’t curating exhibitions or chronicling the era we once shared (most recently, Buying the Farm: Peace and war on a sixties commune) he works in what he calls the “supply side” of the arts, in this case photography. Over the past few years he’s been making three-by-two-foot cyanotypes in a process nearly as old as photography itself, but rarely seen in recent decades. His lush, sensuous work is featured (until September 7) at the Albany Institute of History and Art.

Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still

I can now reveal that Paige Peterson, the New York artist who became world famous for illustrating my adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas Carol, has illustrated another book. It too has an unlikely hero: a horse that stood for 28 years, pretty much without moving, in a California field. Blackie had been a rodeo horse and a crowd-pleaser at Yosemite, but it was his late-life career as a fixture in Tiburon that’s celebrated in Blackie: The Horse Who Stood Still. As a child, Paige would bring him sugar and carrots; in this book, with a rhymed text by Christopher Cerf, she feeds us quirk and whimsey. Ideal for kids who have exhausted the Dr. Seuss books and who may not be ready for Tiny Tim.

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials. Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well.

from Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.