Waterproof liquid eyeliner. A dental scaler. Brown packing tape. These unusual things, and many others, are staples in my bag repair supply kit.
I don't share my techniques for two reasons; one, they're all completely unique, honed through trial and error by me, often with supplies I've created to produce the best results I can through custom, top secret processes. Two, I imagine sharing some of my techniques would be something like a scene from one of my favorite movies, Death Becomes Her, when undertaker Ernest Menville tells the niece of one of his... clients that he achieves such excellent results by using auto spray paint. Jarring, to say the least, since "pure acetone" and "handbag repair" definitely don't sound like they go together.
Although I won't show how things are done, A detailed review of how things end up is always fun to share. I'll be showing the revitalization of a Coach backpack (available in the shop here) and a Vuitton travel bag from my own collection.
This 1997 Coach Daypack had a subtle before-to-after (left to right) transformation, and old school thick, luxurious glovetanned leather from Coach is a great leather to show how subtle updates can make a big difference.
On the rare, convenient occasion that a bag can be deconstructed for its spa day, it is. In this instance, the hardware was almost all removed so leather and brass treatments could be performed completely separate from each other, and much more throughly. Deconstructed hardware gets a full wash and polish at least 3x, with the process shown in the top three photos- all the dark marks on the green cloth in photo three are tarnish just from this hardware.
A deep clean is always the first step, an interesting and revealing one. As the dirt and dust that settles into leather is cleaned off, every scratch and scuff becomes visible- and makes the bag look terrible! The solvent soaks into the leather in heavily worn places, making them stand out until it's wiped away and dried. Then, a custom-blended, colorfast tint wash is applied to restore vibrancy and blur over minor blemishes (sort of like a BB cream for bags). Problem areas, like corners, get special attention.
There you have it! Lightly refreshed, restored and cleaned. A new vibrancy compliments original elements of the bag's vintage status, like small blemishes, slightly burnished edges, and a relaxed yet stable posture.
Example no. 2 is a 33 year old Louis Vuitton Keepall 50. I decided to share this also, since it's a little more in keeping with the types of bags I'm often asked to restore.
This was HIGH on my wishlist for years, but a $700+ dollar travel bag wasn't quite fitting in with how I was shopping. This bag comes with a story, I got him for $250 two years ago with one catch; the bag was locked shut with an old school LV combination lock and the combination was unknown. I sat with it for three hours, testing number by number, starting at 999 (000 would've been smarter, since the combo is 117). This bag goes with me on every trip, and often stows away in my trunk on busy work days or event days, full of backup essentials. I didn't restore it when I bought it, but after a year and a half of heavy use, I decided it was long overdue.
LV's vachetta leather, an untreated, vegetable tanned leather that patinas from a pale beige to a honey gold, and picks up every spot, scratch, and scuff as it darkens, primarily from exposure to light and oils from hands. The older hardware, a high(er) purity brass that patinas in a different way, and the hard wearing, iconic coated canvas (cotton treated with PVC) all come together for these classic bags.
The canvas on this bag rarely needs any form of maintenance, other than basic cleaning from time to time, the dirt a moderately used Louis can collect in a year- shocking. Newer canvas is thinner and lighter, and susceptible to some cracking and splitting, which is a doable, albiet major repair. This bag needed a quick wash, and the vibrancy of the monogram came back.
Treating and polishing vintage LV brass is a pretty straightforward process, less the convenience of being able to remove it. Patina can develop in brown, green, and even an oil slick like finish. Cleaning zipper teeth is a slow process that adds a major detail and improves the zip of a zipper.
Water spots, excessive wear, uneven patina, and odd stains plague LV vachetta leather, especially on vintage bags. Areas like handles can patina heavily and unevenly, dry out, start to crack, and then start to wear away, as was the case with this bag. Both of these are common problems that can be remedied rather easily, with techniques that have a blurring effect. This reduces the appearance of inconsistency significantly, and allow the leather to continue to develop its color.
Here we are, finished with our restoration run-through! I hope you loved seeing what I do as much as I love doing it. To discuss a restoration or repair, contact me! For more details and updates on restoration projects, follow me on instagram.