Stuck for words when he created his first hotmail account back in the ’90s, Ben Thompson paired his dog’s name with the name of the first street he lived in (yes, that’s also how you work out your stripper/porn star alias). Little did he know, years later, the name Charlie Middleton would be stitched into the handbags of women around the world. “[The name] had been around for so long I didn’t feel like it had a stigma,” Thompson laughs. “And it’s a great name.”
Formerly a carpenter, landscaper and personal trainer, it wasn’t until Thompson went to a casual leatherwork class that his obsession with leather began. It was the hands-on aspect he loved, and it’s still his favourite thing about the business.
It’s not surprising, then, to hear that every Charlie Middleton bag is handmade by Thompson himself in his Bondi studio. Each beautifully designed tote bag is made to order with a choice of more than 30 leather colours, four handle colours and three hardware options. And with their beauty comes strength. “None of them ever break – I’ve tested them beyond 100 kilograms,” says Thompson. “I triple stitch the handles using heavy German thread, and I only ever use cowhide, which is a really strong leather.”
Thompson draws most of his inspiration from vintage design and from leather itself. “Leather is like no other material on earth,” he says, before admitting to being a bit of a hoarder. “I end up buying a whole lot of amazing leather without knowing if I’m ever going to use it.” Most of his leather is imported from Europe – Italy, Germany and Spain – with the occasional piece from Japan or New Zealand.
It’s fair to say the Charlie Middleton brand won’t be leaving the safe hands of Ben Thompson anytime soon. “I don’t want to take it offshore. I’m happy to keep it all here, handmade in Sydney,” says Thompson. “There’s a story behind every bag and people seem to connect with that.”
Charlie Middleton is available online at charliemiddleton.com