A Handle on the World

From Asprey to Zero Halliburton, Attachés Have Cachet. They Carry Clout--and Your Business Papers.

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Tom Corcoran, a consultant to clients at Hill & Knowlton in New York City, also carries a Louis Vuitton briefcase--but one with a distinctive provenance. "I carry an antique Louis Vuitton from the '30s," Corcoran says. "It was given to me by Joan and Melissa Rivers after Joan's husband, Edgar, died. I was very touched. He bought it in the '50s in London."
Ivana Trump also carries Louis Vuitton. "I call it my 'bad dream,'" she says. "It means that it is very big and spacious, and I keep filling it full of work and 'take-home' things and magazines and work files and on and on. It was a gift, and I cherish it."
No article about briefcases would be complete without mentioning some others that are also, along with Louis Vuitton, considered the world's best. The London firm Swaine Adeney Brigg & Sons, for example, makes impeccable briefcases handsewn with durable bridle-hide leather and brass fittings; prices range from about $500 to $1,300. The company also does a brisk business refurbishing locks and corners on vintage cases, some of which are 100 years old. "They're the Rolls-Royce of briefcases," explains Sir Thomas Lethbridge, manager of their Piccadilly store.
Swaine Adeney holds several Royal Warrants, including that of the Prince of Wales, for its leather goods. So...does Prince Charles use one? When interviewed on November 15, Lethbridge replied, "I just gave him one yesterday for his 46th birthday."
Another English standout is Asprey, which also holds Royal Warrants. Its steel-framed business cases are entirely constructed by hand and typically produced in bridle hide, although exotic skins such as alligator and ostrich can also be used. A salesperson described the solidly constructed cases as giving a solid "thump" when opened or closed--as would the doors of a Mercedes.
Yet another English maker of first-class cases is Papworth, whose four-inch and five-inch overlap cases are sold at Crouch & Fitzgerald. Drawing inspiration from Norfolk, England, is Alfred Dunhill, whose best-selling case, the Norfolk, is synthetic with brown leather trim and a signature plaid-cotton lining. It sells for $595.
In France you'll pay through the nez for an Hermès or Cartier briefcase. Hermès' best seller, for example, is its $3,175 handmade sac à dépêche featuring 24-karat-gold-plate-over-brass hardware. Cartier's bordeaux leather case with combination lock and jacquard lining is $2,250. In Germany you'll find Goldpfeil (pronounced: gold file) cases, whose production requires more than 100 different procedures. The cases are made from the hides of cows and calves raised in the Alps. Then there's the Seeger line, whose loyal customers include Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Known as the cashmere of leather, Seeger products are handcrafted of nappa lambskin that's tanned in aged vats, resulting in incomparable softness. Business cases range from $1,275 to $1,850.
If your Champagne tastes run more neutral, you might prefer Bally of Switzerland briefcases. For quality Italian briefcases, consider the examples made by Gucci, known for its red-and-green stripe, and Trussardi, whose symbol is the greyhound.
In Austria you might shop at Schulz of Vienna, which makes cases for Georg Riedel, president of Riedel Crystal of Austria. "Schulz is a craftsman who produces any crazy idea you propose to him," Riedel says. Riedel's cases include a $600 dark-green soft case that holds his phone and cigar box, plus a custom-made hard attaché case that contains four Riedel crystal wineglasses and a corkscrew. "It's my constant case that I carry everywhere...like a pet," Riedel quips.
Back in the States you'll find equally distinctive business cases. One brand with star quality is Zero Halliburton, an aluminum case featuring housed wheels, triple-digit combination locks and continual piano hinge. In other words, designed to last under the most adverse conditions.
The $476, three-inch-wide silver attachés are easily recognizable because they have appeared in countless movies and television shows, including The Pelican Brief, Guarding Tess and "Murphy Brown." It's also the case that Arnold Schwarzenegger carried in Total Recall.
In 1988 the company produced 50 limited-edition four-inch cases plated with 14-karat gold, which retailed for $2,500 each. One buyer was a Japanese collector who resold his for $9,000. Yet another buyer was the rock star formerly known as Prince.
What does a Zero Halliburton say about its owner? "It says, 'I want to be noticed,' and it's very popular in L.A.," notes Ermatinger of the Luggage and Leather Goods Manufacturers.
Consultant Bixler is more succinct: "It says L.A., stick out like a sore thumb in Boston, not appropriate in Chicago, pretentious in Atlanta, city slicker in Houston.''
Other brands have also given Academy Award-worthy performances. Another star of stage and screen is the Atlas Company of Boston (based in Philadelphia), whose cases have appeared in numerous movies and commercials. These bags, which are a staple on Wall Street, are frequently given as rewards in law firms when an attorney reaches partner status. The best seller, a four-inch attaché in Irish handmade leather, is about $485.
Seen an episode of "Northern Exposure" lately? A Ghurka $425 leather satchel recently appeared on the show. Ghurka bags were created by Connecticut entrepreneur Marley Hodgson after he obtained the original tanning formula once used for the leather gear of the Nepali soldiers in the British and Indian armies. Made of waterproof leather and twill, Ghurka bags never wear out, are said to improve with age and can even be safely thrown into the washing machine. Aficionados include Robert Wagner, former senator Gary Hart, John McEnroe, Nicolas Cage and Sylvester Stallone.
Remember the soft brown case that Harrison Ford gave to Melanie Griffith in Working Girl? It was a Schlesinger triple-gusseted briefcase. Eric Kobren, the investment banker who started "Fidelity Insight," a newsletter that documents Fidelity funds, knows all about Schlesinger. He owns Schlesinger's three-and-a-quarter-inch oxblood attaché and its brown pilot's case, plus a Goldpfeil black portfolio. However, owning more than one case has its drawbacks. "Using too many at the same time can be confusing."
Schlesinger is one of the best-selling brands at Crouch & Fitzgerald, notes Ellen Careaga, vice president and general manager. Hartmann and Coach are also popular. Hartmann bags, which are made of belting leather and retail for $525 to $1,375, are higher priced than Schlesinger, notes Careaga. "But they're well constructed, durable and classic. It's an extremely well-made case," she adds. Coach bags, Careaga says, "are well made and very classic." They average about $400.
It's hard to imagine that a powerful business person wouldn't carry a briefcase. But Stanley Marcus, chairman emeritus of Neiman-Marcus, doesn't. He used to carry an English attaché, but today walks around with a paper sack. "I sprained my back," Marcus explains. "A paper sack is lightweight and disposable."
Then you have the power brokers who don't carry any briefcase at all. Calls to David Letterman, Henry Kravis, Ron Perelman, Richard Branson and Sumner Redstone all revealed that they don't use any attaché whatsoever. Says Ermatinger: "That's the ultimate statement; they have an assistant who carries everything for them."
Debbi J. Karpowicz, a lifestyle and travel writer, is the author of the humorous dating book, I Love Men in Tasseled Loafers. She carries a leather tote bag.
Zero Halliburton
Atlas Co. of Boston
Cartier; Hermès (France)
Goldpfeil; Seeger (Germany)
Asprey; Swaine Adeney;
Dunhill (England)
Bally (Switzerland)
Trussardi; Gucci (Italy) Schulz (Austria)
What to give the cigar enthusiast who has everything? How about a "Perfecto" briefcase that an entrepreneur named after his favorite Cuban cigar?
In 1913, Irving Schott founded the leather-goods company that bears his name. In 1928, Schott Bros. claims it developed the first leather motorcycle jacket, which had a starring role in the film The Wild One with Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin. Schott named the jacket after his favorite accessory--his Perfecto.
Later, the Perfecto line was expanded to include handbags, belts, knapsacks, wallets and briefcases, all made with full-grain, black or brown cowhide and nickel or brass detailing. The collection retails for $20 to $375.
Got $7,800 burning a hole in your pocket? Consider the alligator attaché made by Charles Underwood of Dallas. Or try the $5,800 ostrich case. The company also makes alligator and ostrich desk sets that include blotter, pen stand, note holder and "In" box.
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