Hello everyone, and welcome to another Singaporean review! On this shiok Sunday, I’m reviewing two bags from local accessories label, Gnome & Bow.
This time around, I’ll be reviewing the Porthos Briefcase, as well as the Balsa Duffel. They belong to two different collections – the Porthos Briefcase is part of the new “The 4th Musketeer” Collection, whilst the Balsa Duffel belongs to the brand’s first collection, “The Hare & The Flying Tortoise”. Let’s see if they are any good!
Gnome & Bow – the Brand
I’ve previously covered Gnome & Bow as a brand in my review article of the Kale Backpack here. If you like to know more about this Singaporean brand, do read the article above!
In addition the Kale backpack, I also reviewed the Strand Briefcase here, their wallets here, and their Milton bags here. In particular, I really like the Milton Briefcase (pictured above) – it’s probably my personal favourite briefcase!
Alright, without further ado let’s delve into the review!
Gnome & Bow Porthos Briefcase – the Review
Let’s start by taking a look at the Porthos Briefcase.
According to Gnome & Bow, the Porthos Briefcase is a slim briefcase that comes “endowed with a bevy of features”, marrying form with functionality. As aforementioned, the Porthos Briefcase is part of Gnome & Bow’s latest collection, the 4th Musketeer. In line with the theme of the collection – inspired of course by Dumas’ famous novel, The Three Musketeers – the Porthos Briefcase is designed with understated luxury in mind, a product that is meant to wow both those at the fencing club and also in the office.
Let’s start by examining the materials. Firstly, the main body (the brown portion) of the briefcase is fashioned out of water-resistant PU-backed nylon. If you’re a fan of Gnome & Bow’s previous briefcases, or have been reading some of my previous reviews on their bags, you will find this same material in some of the brand’s previous briefcases such as the Milton Briefcase mentioned above. As compared to polyester (commonly found in cheaper briefcases), nylon feels more premium to the touch due to its smoothness, and is also stronger and more durable. Whilst the nylon on the Milton Briefcase had a glossy look, the nylon on the Porthos Briefcase here has a more matte finish, which results in a more understated look that is suitable for the office.
Secondly, the front exterior compartment is made from full-grain US cow leather. For those uninitiated with leather, leather generally comes in three quality tiers – genuine leather, top-grain leather, and full-grain leather, in ascending order of quality. Unlike the genuine leather on briefcases that one often finds in this price range (from brands like Braun Buffel or Picard), the full-grain leather on the Porthos Briefcase will patina beautifully, gradually darkening over time, though the patina effect will be less obvious on given the black leather.
The stitching on the briefcase is rather tidy as well, without any loose or fraying threads visible. Well done!
Unlike the previous Gnome & Bow briefcases that I reviewed, the handles of the Porthos Briefcase are attached to the briefcase via metal fixtures, instead of being stitched on directly. This should result in greater durability, as less stress is experienced.
All of us who have owned bags before (be it briefcases or backpacks) know that the zippers are often the first area to spoil. Fortunately, Gnome & Bow uses YKK Japan Excella zippers here for greater durability. The zipping action here is very smooth, and they have not jammed on me in the 1 month+ time that I have been using them. Even if that happens, there’s a one-year warranty on all hardware in case you run into any issues! In addition, the zippers used here possess an “antique” finish, giving the briefcase a nice vintage, battle worthy vibe that complements the theme of The 4th Musketeer collection.
In addition, the Porthos Briefcase comes with a cotton webbing strap. I personally find a sling strap essential on a briefcase – I’m a heavy duty user, and often pack my briefcase to the brim. As such, it becomes unbearably heavy especially after a long day. The ability to sling a briefcase is a life-saver. The black cotton strap matches the aesthetics of the briefcase nicely, though I personally would have loved to see a black leather strap here, which would have exuded a more luxurious feel.
The hardware at the side – on which the strap hooks on – is well made and sturdy, so kudos to Gnome and Bow on that front! Furthermore, I also like the black full grain leather accents here, which again reinforces the luxurious yet understated feel of the Porthos Briefcase. Again, the stitching is very tidily done.
Moving on to reviewing the compartment space, the front exterior compartment of the Porthos Briefcase contains 3 interior pockets and 2 pen slots. In my 1+ month of using the briefcase, I actually came to greatly appreciate the front compartment, which became my ‘quick access’ compartment. I found myself putting things that I usually needed access to quickly – such as power banks, wallet, keys, earphones, etc – in the front compartment, and it really greatly increased the convenience factor of the briefcase. I had no difficulty accessing what I needed in a heartbeat.
One of my favourite aspects of Gnome & Bow’s products is the usage of fabric lining. Here, a lovely herringbone lining is used, a stark departure from the polyester lining commonly found in cheaper briefcases. As someone with a keen appreciation for tailoring, I loved the usage of the herringbone pattern (usually seen in clothing textile) here! Again, it definitely elevates the sartorial feel of the Porthos Briefcase.
Moving on to the main compartment, it has a zippered compartment, as well as a neoprene-padded laptop compartment (fits up to 14inch laptops) with a snap fastener.
In my 1+ month experience of using the Porthos briefcase, I never once felt that the capacity was inadequate. The laptop compartment fits my 14-inch laptop snugly, and I used the zippered compartment (pictured near the bottom of the photo above) to store my tech accessories – laptop charger, mouse, mousepad, etc. I also found the main compartment to be spacious enough to store my other essentials, such as a water bottle, umbrella, books and documents. I had my doubts on the practicality of the Porthos Briefcase when I first saw its slim form factor, but over a month of usage on and I have to say that those initial apprehensions are definitely quelled.
And yes – the entire main compartment is lined with that same lovely herringbone lining! In addition, there’s also a nicely embossed leather patch with an artwork of The 4th Musketeer collection inside, which I found to be a really neat touch.
We’re not done! At the back, there’s a small back pocket which features a magnetic fastener. I found myself putting some packets of tissues and wet wipes there – important to have, given the current situation! There’s also an external slot (made from full grain leather) designed to accommodate a luggage handle, making the Porthos Briefcase a viable option for the travelling businessman. The words Tous pour un is inscribed here, which is French for “All for One”, referring of course to Dumas’ famous quote, “All for One, and One for All”. I should also point out that I’m again impressed by the neat stitching visible here – the consistency is impressive.
If you’re wondering where the other half of the famous quote went, it’s present on a small detachable pouch inside the back compartment. The latter half reads Un pour tous – French for “One for all”. In case you’re wondering why the quote is in French, the original version of the novel The Three Musketeers was published in French, as Dumas (the author) was French. Being a bit of a literary geek myself, I appreciate Gnome & Bow’s accuracy in paying homage to one of the most iconic novels ever written.
Overall, I really like the Porthos Briefcase from Gnome & Bow. I like the understated luxury that the bag exudes – it’s unique enough that it will warrant a second look, but not obnoxious and in your face the way Gucci or LV briefcases often are. Despite the sleek form factor, I found that the briefcase to be pretty practical, and it was able to contain all that I ever need to the office. Lastly, I appreciated the way the briefcase pays homage to Dumas’ famous literary work, The Three Musketeers. This is definitely a briefcase for the refined gentleman. My only gripe with the Porthos Briefcase is with its price. At S$431 (after the promo code below), it’s not terribly expensive, but it’s not exactly a steal either. There are other full leather briefcases out there – such as the LAVNG Slim Briefcase and the Cincinnati Leather Briefcase – that cost less. In my opinion, both the above alternatives don’t exude the same refined, sartorial feel as the Porthos Briefcase does, but if you’re on a budget (or simply looking for a full leather briefcase) those might be better value propositions. I should also mention that there’s a full leather version of the Porthos Briefcase available, though that would be slightly pricier at $503 (after promo code below).
View the Porthos Briefcase here.
Gnome & Bow Balsa Duffel – the Review
If you’re a more heavy-duty user, the Balsa Duffel is for you!
According to Gnome & Bow, the Balsa Duffel is “the jetsetter’s ideal gateway accessory”, fit for tucking away your dress shoes, gym gear and a varied wardrobe with room to spare. Unlike the Porthos Briefcase, the Balsa Duffel is actually from Gnome & Bow’s maiden collection, The Hare & The Flying Tortoise.
The Balsa Duffel uses heavy-duty cotton canvas, which is also water and rot-resistant. The exterior material of the Kale backpack is highly durable, and should retain its physical appearance for a long, long time. This will definitely be more sturdy as compared to the cheap polyester/nylon duffel bags!
Furthermore, the leather accents of the Balsa Duffel are made of full-grain US cow leather. As I’ve mentioned above, full-grain leather is considered the highest quality tier of leather, and will acquire a nice patina over time. Lower-quality (and therefore lower-priced) bags often use faux leather in their leather accents, which will peel off and degrade over time.
In case you’re wondering what the leather tag was, it’s actually a luggage tag upon which you can write your name and contact number! Gnome & Bow even designed their own little vintage looking paper for the luggage tag, which I found to be a very nice touch.
The handles on Balsa Duffel are nicely stitched on, and thus far I’ve not seen signs of wear-and-tear on the handles after using it for 1+ month. Gnome & Bow went an extra step here by stitching the handles in a “X” formation to increase load durability, which is paramount given that one often packs a duffel bag to its brim.
On the topic of packing the bag to its brim, a cotton strap is thankfully included with the Balsa Duffel. This is definitely a lifesaver – the duffel bag weighs a ton most of the time, and I often find myself resorting to using the strap.
The strap can be attached to metal fixtures on the side, which are pretty sturdy. I love the brass treatment of the hardware – they evoke a nice vintage vibe that complements the Balsa Duffel (especially in this Camel colourway) perfectly. I love the small little detail of making the hook rotational, which allows me to fasten the strap with ease.
As you guys know from my other reviews, I absolutely adore discovering subtle detailing that brands pay attention to. In Gnome & Bow’s case, I love how they chose to illustrate the racing element of the literary fable The Tortoise and the Hare, with the leather accent on the side of the duffel embroidered to resemble the checker flag at the start line of a race.
The story is presented in the leather zippers as well, with the two zippers being embossed with the image of a hare and a flying tortoise – paying homage to the name of the collection, The Hare and The Flying Tortoise. I love the subtle detailing, and personally I think the Balsa Duffel tells its story better than the Porthos Briefcase did for the 4th Musketeer.
Speaking about zippers, YKK Japan excella zippers is once again used here, so expect smooth zipping action! The stitching is relatively tidy as well, without any loose or fraying threads.
Of course, the a duffel bag needs to have a lot of space, and in that aspect I think the Balsa Duffel definitely shines. There’s two large pocket compartments (bottom of the photo), two smaller side compartments, and a zippered compartment as well. Generally, I think the Balsa Duffel is well thought out, and I found the multitude of compartments handy for storing a myriad of items. I can definitely see myself using the Balsa Duffel for a short trip to Bali/staycation, or even as an office bag if I have a gym session afterwards and need to bring a change of clothes. My only qualm with the bag is that it lacks a dedicated laptop compartment. A laptop is definitely an essential nowadays, and I’ll definitely bring my laptop even if I’m just going for a short trip to Bangkok or having a staycation at Sentosa. Of course, the Balsa Duffel is definitely large enough to accomodate a laptop, but I was always worried about my laptop getting scratched due to the lack of a dedicated compartment.
Just like the Porthos Briefcase, herringbone lining is used on the Balsa Duffel, giving the bag a elevated sophistication. There’s also a nice leather patch – in full grain leather, so the patina is evident – embossed with the artwork of The Hare & the Flying Tortoise Collection. Again, I think that it’s a very nice touch.
Lastly, there’s a slot at the back for your luggage handle, making the Balsa Duffel a great option for long-distance/duration travels, such as that pesky business trip to the States. I love that the slot – made from the same cotton canvas as the strap and the handles – is again cross-stitched for greater durability.
All in all, I think the Balsa Duffel is a great option for either travel, or to the office if you’re a heavy duty user. I personally think it looks terrific, especially this Camel variant. This is definitely one with form and function. I don’t really have much against it, except for the lack of a dedicated laptop compartment. Again, it’s not the cheapest duffel bag around, but I think its strategic use of full-grain leather accents, as well as the intriguing storytelling element of its theme, makes it a compelling option.
View the Balsa Duffel here.
Conclusion – so Gnome & Bow “shiok” or not?
I’ve been a fan of Gnome & Bow since their early days, and I’m still a fan – I think they offer some of the most intriguingly designed bags on the market. Let’s be real, most briefcases and duffel bags look the same. I applaud Gnome & Bow for innovating in certain areas – the storytelling aspect, herringbone fabric lining, full-grain leather accents, etc – while ensuring that for the most part, their bags retain functionality and is practical for everyday use. Are there cheaper bags out there? Yes, but in my opinion none that possess the same level of design impetus as the bags from Gnome & Bow. If you’re a creative, or a discerning gentleman who’s willing to pay a premium for design – the same way one is willing to pay more for Apple products – then I think the Gnome & Bow bags are right up your alley.
For those interested, you can use the promo code “WAHSOSHIOK” to enjoy 10% off all Gnome & Bow products on their web-store! Personally, I think the Porthos Briefcase makes for a great everyday briefcase to the office, while the Balsa Duffel would be great for those that likes to travel in style. One for the weekdays, and one for the weekends!
View the full range of Gnome & Bow’s offerings here.
P.S Do check out the “Discounts!” page for exclusive discounts for Wah So Shiok readers! More brands will be added very soon – stay tuned!