What could be more British than a traditional Gladstone bag named after William Ewart Gladstone, the four-time Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and designed and manufactured in a leather shop in the City of Westminster?

Not many things, but the Gladstone bags we covet today are not the stiff leather portmanteaus of yesteryear, but rather the timeless leather accessories handcrafted by Gladstone London: stylish, contemporary bags which look just as good in the boardroom as they do on the city streets. Founder and CEO John O’Sullivan launched Gladstone London in 2015.

John had worked in the industry for more than 30 years, but it wasn’t until he started to question why the designs for so many beautiful bags became lost over time that he saw the potential for reintroducing traditional leather crafting elements, making them relevant for today’s urbanites and city slickers.

In just two years, the company has become the go-to label for those who appreciate quality, design and functionality. Fundamental to the Gladstone London ethos is the craftsmanship that produced those original Gladstone bags back in the 19th century. The world of leather artisans is steeped in history and tradition and the idea of a mentor passing down his tools to his apprentice is something that has always resonated with John. The old skills – the crafting practices and the hand stitching, for example – cannot be replicated by machine, which is why Gladstone London still works with retired artisans, who teach techniques of old, reviving lost crafting practices.

Photo 1 of

Take the G3 folio and G4 briefcase, which form part of the Gladstone London Business collection. They are created from exquisite vegetable-tanned leather, but these are not the skins
available on the shelves of the primary used tanneries. John had wanted to craft them in something unique, so he set out on a journey, which ended in Italy, to unearth leathers of the past. Much like wood, leather gains a rich, warm patina over time, and the skins he eventually chose for the G3 and G4 had been stored in a darkened warehouse near Lake Como for over 30 years. 
Of course, it’s not just about the exterior: a bag of quality also has to be pleasurable to use. Both briefcases have an interior lined with a sumptuous and cleanable alcantara, plus a double gusset, which is essential for keeping paperwork separate from a laptop.

Nevertheless, with heritage comes the need to innovate and Gladstone London’s S/S’18 collection, showcased at London Collections Men and at Pitti Uomo in Florence this year (the company was accepted on first application), certainly does that.

Evoking 1950s London, the collection features hand-painted curling monochrome smoke designs strikingly juxtaposed with iconic clean line dark silhouettes. Speaking of the new collection, John O’Sullivan comments: ‘My lifetime’s career working with luxury accessories derives from my passion for quality design, heritage and genuine craftsmanship. Our modern designs are crafted to suit the ever-growing market of the understated, stylish gentleman. The Big Smoke Collection leads new industry trends with our inspired vision of 1950s London.’ The company also offers a highly exclusive bespoke service (‘more than craftsmanship, it is artistry’), available by appointment only at the Shepherd Market shop. All Gladstone London products are handcrafted in a small Italian factory near Lake Como to a quality matched only by the most renowned superbrands. The heritage and inspiration, however, are most decidedly British.