Bags of potential: the search for the perfect all-round hold-all

Alexander Fury
Prada manbag 200x300 Bags of potential: the search for the perfect all round hold all

A Hawaiian-patterned bag at the spring 2014 Prada men's show.

It’s difficult to buy a bag, as a man. Very, very difficult. And it’s not because people aren’t pitching for your cash. Far from it. We featured manbags alongside the glad rags in the men’s fashion special of the Independent Magazine for autumn/winter 2013, because they have grown in visibility and in importance.

When I say visibility, I don’t just mean on the catwalks. That’s easy: a model totes a tote up and down, then it slides seamlessly into the designer’s showroom to die a quiet, undisturbed death. Today, however, a bag has become an essential component of many a man’s wardrobe. It’s no longer simply a toss-up between briefcase and backpack. There’s plenty of those of course, but the website features no less than nine categories at the moment. It’s an offering that promises only to expand.

It can all be a bit overwhelming. Even to someone who works in the industry, such as me. In fact, especially for someone who works in the industry. Let’s be honest: fashion folk clock each other’s sartorial choices far closer than normal people. If you work in the car industry I’m sure smirks would spread if you rocked up in a Reliant Robin. Why should fashion be any different?

A dodgy bag is the equivalent of said Reliant. The only difference? It’s easy to be fooled into splashing too much cash on it, or into buying something that is, simply, totally unsuitable.

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Saffiano travel two-handle briefcase, by Prada. It also comes in blue

A bag, for me, has to have longevity. I loved the Hawaiian patterned bags at the spring 2014 Prada menswear show (above), but when they were offered for pre-order during Milan womenswear week in September I couldn’t bring myself to buy one. I couldn’t yet tell if it’d grow old. Or at least, old to me. I’m sure I’ll be hankering after it in a year or so, and kicking myself for not buying it first time round. It’s a bit like the Worth gowns worn by the ladies of Edith Wharton’s nineteenth-century New York, held “fallow” for a season or two, so they didn’t seem so box-fresh.

What bag is worth the cash then? Prada have a great leather briefcase, in blue or black (£1,250,, tricked out with detailing that seems a little seventies, a little nineties (via the seventies, which was always Prada’s thing). Ironically, it’s about as expensive as a Valentino clutch-bag (£1,140, that weighs in at half its size.

The latter style, however, is decidedly less realistic. At least, for me. I think of hyper-polished Italian men when I see the Valentino clutch, the male counterparts to those glossy women who can trip out with a Judith Leiber minaudière in the shape of a swan impractical enough to only contain a lipstick. That man-clutch could just about take an iPhone, and the all-important Amex Black.

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A Doberman-printed backpack from Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci

Practicality. That’s an odd consideration when you’re talking about luxury fashion. I don’t think of myself as a typical male consumer – the gold lamé Burberry Prorsum trench coat, spangled Prada shirting and overwhelming amount of dodgy leopard in my wardrobe would scare Rod Stewart, never mind the horses – but I do have a real life to lead.

I also think practicality, or at least its pretence, is a large part of masculine fashion decisions. Like those pseudo-technical watches, studded with dials and tricked out with detailing that all serves a function, even if no-one quite knows what that is, or how to make it serve said function.

It’s less ephemeral with bags. But the idea of function is interesting. Riccardo Tisci’s Givenchy backpack (£595, pretends to be sporty. I’m sure you’d never put it through the punishment of a real training routine, but it borrows that kind of practicality.

So do many of Kim Jones’ bags for Louis Vuitton (from around £1,000,, with straps in unusual places (on the top, side and a rear of a backpack, for example) to allow a wearer, he says, to carry them in a multitude of different fashions. A bit like swapping your shopping bag from hand to hand when you’re coming home from Tesco.

Another urge I have – perhaps masculine, perhaps a reflection of fashion generally – is an urge for visual silence. I don’t want anything flashy, despite espousing my love of leopard and lamé. Or at least, I like that, a lot, but I don’t like it when people comment on it. Louis Vuitton have a great, quiet bag, the Sac Plat (£1,160, again It isn’t tricked out with too much metal or detailing. You’d never clock it cost anything much.

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The Junya Watanabe black-on-black Amazona 24h, by Loewe

That’s also probably why I love the Spanish leather house Loewe’s collaboration with Junya Watanabe quite so much. It’s the final collection created with Stuart Vevers, who has now left to head up Coach in the US. Watanabe looked to punk, a stomping-ground he’s approached many times before, with much more validity and genuine rebel spirit than fashion can usually muster.

And the bags (Loewe Amazona 24h, £1,950,, simply, look great – a patchwork of denim, tartans and leather, in a hefty enough size to suit men and women. They’re practical. They look good. They’ll carry on looking good. And they’ll carry plenty.

Afterthought: these are very, very expensive options. Hence the importance of longevity. I couldn’t imagine forking that kind of cash out for a single item more than once a year. Back to the Reliant Robin: they’re much cheaper than an Aston Martin, but just not as good. And there’s the extent of my automotive knowledge…

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