Malle London - Our chat with founder Robert Nightingale Posted on 19 Feb 00:00

 

Malle London has been a staple in our collection since the very beginning of BELANCĒ in 2012. The brand has been defined as experts in 'adventure accessories', In short they're the creators of absurdly durable and stylish British handmade bags and accessories.

Malle's founders have always been inspired by vintage motorcycle culture, and we sat down with founder Robert Nightingale to hear more about their new 2018 Expedition collection and the exciting adventures they had along the way. 

 

Can you tell us the story behind MALLE and why you started the brand?

Malle started in 2012 with a motorcycle - or in fact 2 motorcycles - my cousin Jonny was riding a vintage BSA and I had an old custom Enfield and we couldn’t find any luggage for these types of British classic/custom motorcycles. As designers we couldn’t help but start sketching out some ideas for ‘the perfect motorcycle pannier’ (a life-long challenge it seems). We wanted a bag that you could sling over the side of the bike or over your shoulder when you arrive at work. We bought an old sewing machine for £70, with some thick British waxed canvas and some Italian leather we started making our first piece - 2 days and 5 samples later we had pretty much wrecked the sewing machine, but we had a cool bag that actually worked.

It started from there really and then our very first customers liked that the bags were really tough, utilitarian, water-proof and although they were designed for the motorcycle they could be used for different work/weekend trips. They started requesting; backpacks, weekenders, duffels etc. and that’s when we coined the term ‘adventure accessories’ and that has been our focus for the last 6 years

The "Malle" way has a very adventurous spirit, especially with the latest expedition collection - is that something you both have always had?

I left England when I was 19 for a few weeks and have only recently returned to live there full time, 16 years later, after traveling/living abroad in Australia, India, Nepal, Sweden and America. London was always the base for Malle and our production and definitely home. Jonny’s been based in the UK for most of his life, but he was born in France and every time you turn around he’s in a different country, usually on a crazy motorcycle trip somewhere weirder than the last one. A lot of our family is from France, Denmark, Zimbabwe, South Korea and Australia - so our family background definitely inspired some sort of restless spirit - travel and “adventure” has been one of the main constants in our lives since we were both young.

We started to do some really long distance motorcycle trips together; most recently a 10,000 (37 days) miles across North America a couple of years ago testing the first Malle ‘Expedition Jackets’ and the Malle expedition collection. Last year we decided to make motorcycle adventures a bigger part of the Malle brand and launched ‘The Great Mile’ rally, the longest ‘inappropriate’ motorcycle rally ever attempted in the UK. 100+ custom/classic motorcycles completing a 1250 mile rally from the very Northern tip of Scotland to the Southern tip of England.

 

 

What's a typical day for the Malle team?

It’s controlled chaos! There are some very different parts of the Malle brand; from the races and rally experiences to the design, prototyping, production and the hardcore research expeditions. Everything takes a huge amount of care, planning, logistics, designing, production and everything we do needs to be completed to the very highest Malle standard. We have about 25 makers/tailors now creating products for Malle and our small creative team lead by Jonny and I manage all of that on a daily basis. There’s never a dull moment.

 

Can you tell us a little more about how the bags are made and the craftsmanship behind it?

All of our waxed canvas comes from our mill up in Scotland which is the oldest waxed canvas mill in the UK, if not the world - we use this uniquely British material in the vast majority of our bags and garments. We start with simple cloth samples that I sketch out in the studio - I was trained as an Industrial Designer, but over the years since starting Malle I’ve taught myself to pattern make - so all of the patterns are drawn, cut by hand and then the first prototypes are made in the studio before we bring in our master tailors/sample makers to make the final prototypes.

These pieces (bags/garments) are then put into testing - usually on research trips for our rally’s etc. When we’ve spent proper time with each piece, we make final adjustments to the designs and it goes into production. Our highly skilled craftsmen/women then make each piece by hand. Our newest 'Expedition Jacket' has 72 individual pieces and takes 16 hours of stitching to make - serious craft.

 

 

In 2015 you organised a 10'000 mile expedition across North America, can you tell us a little bit more about it?

We started to do some really long distance motorcycle trips together; most recently a 10,000 (37 days) miles across North America a couple of years ago testing the first Malle ‘Expedition Jackets’ and the Malle expedition collection. Last year we decided to make motorcycle adventures a bigger part of the Malle brand and launched ‘The Great Mile’ rally, the longest ‘inappropriate’ motorcycle rally ever attempted in the UK. 100+ custom/classic motorcycles completing a 1250 mile rally from the very Northern tip of Scotland to the Southern tip of England.

We learned a lot on that expedition - 10,000 miles, 37 days from NY to LA via Canada and Mexico - across mountains in Colorado, up Pikes Peak across the Bonneville Salt Flats, from sub-zero temperatures to over 42 degrees C in the desert, from sideways rain to dizzying heat - we road though almost every weather condition the US has and camped rough every night. It was tough and it was beautiful and we make a better product because of it.

 

We're a little obsessed with the new Vincent Duffle bag, what was the inspiration behind this bag and what makes it so special?

The Vincent Duffel was made for that US expedition, we wanted a bag that can expand and contract and change size with whatever you put in it. The bag can be used as a big duffel for flights and general travel and can strap to the seat of a motorcycle with a simple set of straps. You can access the middle of the bag with the big zip, or from either end if you’re pulling out large camping/camera gear.

When we were on the Bonneville Salt Flats we wanted to get a shot of the both of us racing each other on our Triumph Bonneville's - not easy in that 42C heat when the camera kept over-heating and shutting off - we spent a good part of the day pulling kit in and out of that bag, whilst trying to break 100mph on the rough salt flats (it certainly isn’t flat). We managed to get a shot with both of us pretty much in focus and because one of my favourite ever motorcycle photos is that land-speed attempt on a 1948 Vincent on the Bonneville Salt Flats - we named the bag Vincent - all other Malle nags are named after members of our distant family, except the Vincent.

 

  

 

What can we expect to see for MALLE in 2018?

We’ve been working really hard in the design studio over the last 6 months on some completely new pieces of luggage, including some full leather pieces, cross body slings, a new unisex rain-coat and we’ve made a leather jacket which is currently in testing, so it might see the light of day towards the end of 2018. 'The Malle Mile' motorcycle race is back this summer, with over 450 inappropriate motorcycles racing over the weekend and ‘The Great Mile’ rally will see 100+ crazy classic/custom riders join us for what could be a week of heaven or hell...you never know what the British weather will throw at you in Scotland, but it will be quite the adventure!

Robert Nightingale - Malle London Founder - February 2018.