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Fogg Bags: Now Get What You Really Wanted For Xmasukah

Changing things up a bit this week with some soft goods instead of the usual hardware. ‘Cause no matter the camera and lenses, we need to carry them in something, like, you know, a camera bag. If you appreciate well made goods that last, and if not, why are you wasting your time reading this, you want a good camera bag. And if you appreciate insanely well made bags, that delight the eye and in use, you want to look at Fogg bags.  

As a certified nerd/anorak/otaku (if you need to look any of these up, you aren’t one), I’ve found way too much to talk about and feature when it comes to Fogg. I’m not only a bloody anorak, I’m a contrary one at that. So I’m going to make this a two-parter. I’m ringing out 2019 talking about Fogg’s background and current product. Then I’ll ring in 2020 looking at some vintage Fogg bags, exploring the minor things that have changed, and the all-important things that haven’t. New stuff for the Old Year, old stuff for the New Year.

Fogg bags are made in France by hand, one at a time, by Nigel Fogg and bee berman. Likely near-newlyweds in ‘86, they emigrated from South Africa to London, where they began making camera bags. They then moved to France in ‘92, in a continued search for egalitaire. 30yrs later, I’m guessing they discovered that Wherever You Go, There You Are.  

I don’t speak any French, and the only applicable slang I know is British, so I’d like to say that BCC is chuffed to bits to have been blessed by bee and Nigel to become Fogg stockists. We have a selection of beautiful new Fogg bags on hand, and we would be happy to order either a stock or bespoke bag for you from Nigel and bee.

Fogg’s heritage is obvious from a glance, those traditional cotton-duck-and-leather hunting and tackle bags favored by the landed gentry. Traditional materials, traditional construction methods—cotton and linen from local milleners, leather from local tanners, brass bits from hell-hot local forges—sewn into bags on large industrial sewing machines that could just as easily sew schooner sails or parachutes. Or a human skin suit if you wanted to go all Silence of the Lambs? Not stuff you could do on mom’s Singer.

It’s difficult to put into words the “rightness” of a Fogg bag. Each bag is supremely practical, impeccably made and quietly elegant, while being completely free of frills. Simple, elegant, built to last. They cradle your camera in tough,  lightweight linen that sandwiches thin, dense foam, with a tough, water-resistant cotton outer skin, reinforced with leather at critical wear points, to keep out the vicissitudes of the physical world. A bag to delight any obsessive bag otaku.

Fogg’s current line has a wide range of sizes/configurations, starting from the smaller, single-camera Flute, which fits anything along the lines of a 1960s Leica M3 with 35mm f/2 Summicron, or a current Leica Q/QP/Q2, or Fuji X100F. Moving up in size through the Lyre, B-Laika and Last Waltz, we arrive at the full system-sized Concerto 13 and 15. Each bag is individually labeled and numbered by bee, usually on a small leather swatch, using a heat gun that goes from insufficiently hot to finger-scalding in a breath. Nigel is the keeper of the numbers, his still-handwritten product logs the only Rosetta Stone to date your bag. Nigel will, if properly complimented and motivated, dig out this info for you.

I’ll just call out a few of the quiet touches that show the thought and care bee and Nigel put into their bags. Like how even the small bags have the shoulder strap running full-length around the bottom of the bag. That means full support for whatever you load in the bag, and no stress points or tugging on the sides of the bag, where most bags anchor the ends of the shoulder strap. Or the little extra fold of lid material that tucks in at the sides to keep out dirt/dust/rain. The shoulder pad on all the bags, even the small ones. The narrow, horizontal leather strip across the front top edge of the flap, that makes the flap easier to open/close and fold it out of the way to access the bag contents. It also provides a lovely visual line, emphasizing and showcasing the beauty of the leather.    

I’d be lying if I said Fogg bags were cheap, just as I’d be lying if I said they were a terrible value. The smallest Flute will set you back $495, and if you need a Concerto 15, have $1,995 ready. Anybody who says there’s no reason for a bag to cost that much hasn’t seen any fashion-brand bags, nameless here since lawyers are expensive, that are no better made than a Fogg, but can run $5k+ for a small handbag just because the material and clasps are slathered with fancy fashion-house logos. You can find seemingly similar British-made canvas-and-leather camera bags for somewhat less $$$, sewn by who knows who. They are really nice, but when you play with one next to a Fogg bag, you’ll see, feel and understand the difference.

And you’ll get bee and Nigel when you get a Fogg bag. Delightfully well-made things can be created by really horrid people. I’m grateful these delightfully well-made things are created by two mensches.  I’ve been emailing them for some background info for this piece, and have gotten responses like this (note that bee is red and Nigel is blue):

On asking them to tell me a little bit about themselves:
be careful what you wish for: ask someone to talk about themselves? (risky in France: a simple “ca va?” /how goes it?” risks a quarter-hour monologue …)

On the heat gun:
…with a heat erratic tool – too cold it doesn’t write, too hot it burns my  fingers .. the window between the two is a blink .. if i sneeze  i start from the  beginning.

On my very large vintage Maestro bag:
and the gargantuan Maestro alors? Back-ache? go carefully
nigel blue

On their suppliers:
Ciulli third generation Tannery here in France – we started with their dad, 1st generation Italian immigrant. Over the years we have shared births, deaths, marriages with suppliers. We consider them friends .. who are happy to supply us!

And, finally:
some ancient history:
Hammersmith, London. 1986

then …… and now .. not funny.  

Fogg Bags: Part Deux

You gotta have vintage stuff to write about vintage stuff, but we don’t see many vintage Fogg bags. They work so well, last so long and look so good that folks don’t tend to give them up. Camera systems come and go, Fogg bags abide. So I’ll showcase my own modest Fogg bag collection, hoping my wife never reads this. In increasing size, I’ve got a bee from 10/94, b major from 4/00, Bumble bee from ’95 and, my crowning achievement, a massive, massive Maestro 4×5 from 8/94. The Maestro is sized to fit a 4×5 field camera outfit, or a small infant, or large cat, and is destined to stay at home, stuffed full of gear. My lower back couldn’t take the strain of a fully-loaded Maestro. The other three go anywhere/everywhere, and will very likely outlast me.

You might notice that a lot of bags are named for bee…

If you look at the photos you’ll see my bags range from near-new to scruffy, but the scruffy ones are just as robust as the fresher ones. My bag color preference is black on black, which hides dirt and messy spills better, but since I snag these on the used market, I grab what I can without being overly fussy. The tan b major has had not one, but two spills of yummy Peking House dumpling sauce (for the locals) on its top flap, that I laboriously scrubbed out. If you thought I’d learn my lesson about bag placement from the first spill, you’d be dead wrong. The top flap is now ½ f-stop lighter than the rest of the bag, but that just adds to its character.

‘94/’95 production means early French bags. I’ve never seen an earlier, or London-made Fogg.

Which brings up my first nerdy question: why do my two ‘94 bags still have “FOGG London” tags? Leftover bits from London, waste not want not? New stamp not ready? Just in case the move to France turned out to be kinda sucky?  

Before getting stuck in a nerdy weed patch, I think I’ll compare old/new and look at some things that haven’t changed. Understand that I’m looking at only 4 specific handmade vintage bags, so there are some minor points that are hard to pin down from a small/scattered sample size. But the major stuff is there to see.  

The most important thing that hasn’t changed is the overall workmanship. That’s obvious just by looking at the stitching, which quietly oozes quality. The beautiful, even stitches, that seem impossibly tight and consistent regardless of how many layers of leather/cotton/linen they pierce, is a little mind-blowing. They’re not quite perfect, very rarely the stitches move a little closer to an edge, a reminder that some very talented humans are guiding the thread. It’s little less subtle when done in contrasting thread color, but still sublime. Kinda like the micro-contrast you get from Leica lenses—that maybe doesn‘t consciously register in your brain, but brings life to the image.

The fit-up, the layout and assembly of the “indecent number of components”  – (Nigel) is likewise lovely and unchanged. I think that’s a large part of where the Fogg “rightness” comes from, the flow of leather to canvas to linen, where/how the tabs are anchored, where and how the corners are reinforced, the strap routing. It’s difficult to imagine changing any particular bag for the better. Each and every one just looks right.

From somebody who’s not an expert in bag materials, the materials don’t seem to have changed much, either. That’s a testament to Nigel and bee’s original vision, way back when, and their sourcing skills; like bee said, they’re several generations deep with their suppliers.

The articulated top flap goes back to the early days as well. It’s bigger than a small detail, but still easy to overlook. It’s a double layer of canvas with the top layer cut across the middle, the edges cut back a hair, to form a hinge.  This lets you access the front pockets or slots without lifting the entire lid and exposing your gear. It also keeps the flap out of the way when yanking out a camera or lens. It’s easier to understand in comparison, especially to the British “B’ham” bags, where getting something out of anywhere means having a long canvas flap reaching up towards your neck. And dedicating one hand to holding that flap against your chest, because it wants to drop back down as soon as you let go.

My vintage bags just have a gully at that junction, the new bags have a sexy leather strip transversing the flap. That makes a nice extra horizontal line across the bag and lets bee/Nigel showcase their skills a little more. It’s kind of a show-off move that’s not very showy.

My old bags have a soft/tough linen lining, that cushions your gear, makes it easier to slide it in/out, but doesn’t show any signs of abrading, even after 25yrs. The linen in our new bags is prettier, with a little more texture, so it’s more visually obvious you’re not just looking at the backside of the canvas. There’s also now some contrasting striped linen used, “for a little zing.” (bee).

Only two more things, otherwise this goes on forever. My ‘94/’95 bags don’t have the full-length shoulder strap that cradles the bag’s bottom, while the ‘00 and all our new bags do. I wonder if that was a new thing back then, or a line-wide spec change, an upcharge extra that went mainstream? Either way, definitely a welcome and confidence-inspiring feature.

Lastly, FINALLY you’re probably thinking, there’s this cool signature visual cue of a leather strip at the top of the right-hand pocket flap, viewed from the front, on bags big enough to have two outside pockets, natch. It it’s functional, I can’t think of what for, but it’s there on every Fogg I’ve seen.  

Lastly, part deux, (please help me I can’t stop myself) is how bee/Nigel seemingly sprinkled the bag/# label all over the place. They might have had a logical scheme of where to put these, but I certainly haven’t figured it out. Well, I think all the really big Fogg bags I’ve seen have had that info burned into leather on the bottom of the bag, but otherwise I’ve seen tags on the inside bottom, inside back, inside back of a front pocket, etc, etc, etc. They look to be a little more consistent on our newer bags, but on these oldies I never know where to look. Kind of a little whimsy amongst the orderliness.  

OK, I’m finally out of steam and electrons. Swing by some time to check out our new Fogg bags!