Privilege Blog

City Backpacks, From Classically Fancy To Perfectly Plain

It is such a joy to walk to work. I believe a new toast is in order, to wish loved ones good luck. “May you walk to work under a clear sky. May the flower stalls smell of lilies, every day.”

However, this routine does require a few adjustments. While my Beautifeel shoes are doing their foot bit, it turns out I could use a new bag.

Throw me in the briar patch.

I do love my Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis. An extravagant purchase, yes, but I’ve carried it for two and a half years. No bag rotation, no seasonal switchouts. still, while I have aged the bag has not.

However, balance is all. A half hour vigorous walk, carrying a large shoulder bag, throws one off-kilter, and I need a backpack. Of course, I have a backpack. As one does. But I bought it for a different Use Case. In the old days of suburban commuting, I carried my laptop back and forth between home and office, or on airplanes, in a black nylon pack. I kept personal items in a separate bag. Now, in the era of cloud computing, laptop lugging is no longer top priority.

I need a backpack for walking to work, and carrying the usual personal gear. It only needs to accommodate a laptop, just in case.

Our friends the Style Archetypes each take a different approach to this situation. One might wonder, does the Grande Dame ever carry such a utilitarian object as a backpack? Yes, yes, she does. As long as it’s the iconic Prada Vela, in black. Her white one saved for Aspen, Florida, and Los Angeles. The Grande Dame brings her iPad to the museum, and emulates David Hockney.

Grande Dame Packing

Of course the Artsy Cousin brings packs home by the score, of ikat, of kente, of Panamanian embroidery. The Urban variant goes for studs from Sonia Rykiel, or anything from Timbuk2. Timbuk2 sprang from the world of bike messengers, a source of frequent small revolutions out here in San Francisco.

Artsy Cousin Backpack

But what about Sturdy Gals? We know, once we pass 21, that the time has come to ditch the trusty Jansport. If only because our sister tells us so. We understand that it’s best to leave our son’s 6 random backpacks where they lie, strewn across his bedroom floor. Most often, we pick up something from Briggs and Riley, or Tumi, or any of the luggage makers whose gear lines airplane aisles like gargoyles.

But sometimes we want to revert to heritage days.  Polly Elkin brought Duluth Pack to my attention. Made in, correct, Duluth. Or at least somewhere in the United States.

Sturdy Gal Packing

A secret about the Sturdy. They love unicorns. Not the gussied up sort, not the be-crystalled, but the real ones who could only be caught by a Gal with a pure heart.

Finally, every now and then, the Style Archetypes unite and sing choruses around a backpack we all love. For example.

via Barneys

Subtle reference to Hermes orange, made in Denmark with a reverence for brass, simple, straightforward, perfect. The Mismo flap pack from Barneys New York, at $555. It even appears to have little feet. Mismo’s tagline is: Refined Classics For A Vibrant Lifestyle. A big thank you to the Danes, I like their adjectives rather a lot and hope to remain always yours, vibrantly refined, and walking in balance to work.

38 Responses

  1. hm hmm. A backbag? The ultimo ratio? Maybe a bike instead, that comes with a basket, as seen here:

    In my past I used to be a 100%-backbag- woman, because I went everywhere by bike, which hindered me from buying shoulder purses. Messenger-bags was the most fashionable I would get. I never saw me with a shoulder-bag – until I fell in love with a LV shoulderbag and needed to change my life around the purse. This was when I discovered that comfy handle-basket for purses do exist. I am happy those backbag days are gone.

    Is the terrain very steep? If not I bike could bring fun and pleasure into your way to work. And keep the LV as your work-companion.
    Good to read the vernis holds its test against time.

    1. grr, the new blogspot won’t allow me to link towards 1 photo, the basked is shown towards the end of the posting, sorry for the scrolling!

  2. Okay, you’ve done the (nearly) impossible and rendered me (nearly) speechless with the Sturdy Gal backpack. I never thought I’d say this, but – I would CARRY that.

  3. I go back and forth between messenger style and backpack.

    When I do carry the backpack, I use a small crossbody bag, so I don’t have to take the backpack off and rifle through it to buy coffee or get my blistex or T pass. Plus, I can leave the larger bag in my office, when I run out for lunch or a cookie.

  4. Although a backpack is not in usual rotation in my wardrobe save for the occasional trip to the zoo, park or museum with the kiddies, I would definitely change my ways for that Mismo number! I have fallen for its classic simplicity and clean line!
    Now off to see if Barneys will ship it to Canada!

  5. Thanks, Lisa! I am a Sturdy Gal who walks a lot in NYC and values comfortable back support. I have worn a DaKine laptop backpack for the past several years, which is maybe a bit too sporty for work:
    That Duluth bag is cute and maybe just the transitional bag I need. Also thanks for reminding me about the Cloisters! A visit may be in order soon…

  6. I like that backpack. I have a small one, chili red, from a company called “Sherpani”. It is slightly more Artsy Cousin than yours, but has been useful on trips.

  7. The Mismo bags look well made. Of the ones shown, I like the last one best. But – of a certain age and a backpack- are you really sure? Would there be any other options; is it ” really ” necessary to carry the laptop along?

  8. Wow, this brings back memories of when you decided to purchase the Vernis, that was such a fun post, as well as the follow-up. :)

    These are all delightful, although you would think less of me if I didn’t cower at the Artsy Cousin’s backpack! The Mismo philosophy and merchandise are both things to admire, I’m glad you shared them! More importantly, I am so happy to see your walk has been lovely.


  9. Sigh. Those bags all look lovely, but with my pronounced and generous curves, I’m afraid that a backpack will make me look like the bow of an ocean liner.

  10. Back in the day I used to get changed into walking home from work clothes, throw on my backpack and march home from work. My backpack is deeply unattractive. I bought it in New York in 2003 to get all my shopping home, but gee that backpack has travelled-the Middle East, London, Paris, Hong Kong….when are you actioning your tree? Thought of you when I put my love heart from you up x

  11. The Mismo is perfectly beautiful. Dare I say it, even nicer than the LV Monogram Vernis….

    … No, I don’t dare say it.

  12. I’m still pining for the perfect bag but have not found one. These seem to offer the perfect compromise between form and function. Maybe this is the answer.

  13. Longchamps makes a Pliage backpack, which like the other Pliage bags folds up. Probably best not to buy the black one (which I have) – unless the things you plan to put in it are brightly colored – otherwise, hard to find them. Longchamps makes several backpacks, but Le Pliage never fails.

    And of course, there is the Vuitton Randonne.

    I’ve stuffed mine with laptops, lunches, and perhaps a small cat or two…

  14. The trouble with a backpack is that you have to fuss with it when you are shopping, getting coffee, etc. Plus if someone wants to swipe something out of it, it’s easier for them to get at than a purse.

    I have had the same J.P. Ourse Park Avenue bag for four years. It is the purse of my dreams (or, as my sisters and refer to it, the POMD). Miraculously, I am not jonesing for a new bag. It’s only just starting to look a tad used, even though I use it every day. It’s a cross-body bag that does not look like you have a box glued to your hip. You couldn’t put a laptop in it, but you could put an iPad in there, no prob. And it comes in a million fabulous colors. I’m getting the sage one next. My current one is curry. It does not hurt my back or shoulders. Purse love.

    1. Oooh, I love your J.P. Ourse bag! And it’s 20% off on eBags today only. I love Prada, but it always has that big Prada tag on it–no way. Same with the LV stamped logo… just can’t do it. J.P. is not as high-end, but it’s lovely. Thanks!

  15. I have that problem with big tote bags. After a week or two my back starts to hurt.

    By the time a gal gets her stuff, an umbrella (a must-carry in Maryland), lunch, a thermos with mid-morning coffee and reading material it’s more than one shoulder can happily carry for 30 minutes day in and day out.

    I like the orange one. Patterns and bright colors are nice but you don’t want to clash with your coat or have to switch it out too often.

    One thing I’d add is a flashing reflector. Last year somebody sideswiped me as I was almost home. You need to be sure you can be seen!

  16. I do agree with you about the walk into work. I do a half walk commute the walking does put me in a purposeful frame of mind for work.

    I’m not good with back packs for work but thank you for showing us the options. My favourite is also the orange one.

    SSG xxx

  17. Those last two backpack choices slay me. I, too, need something to carry my papers to and fro the office and was thinking a Cambridge satchel. I might like these better. I notice that here in my little corner of the South, we would call these bags “book bags.” We use “back pack” to refer to camping equipment. No matter what you call them, your choices are great.

  18. What a fabulous looking backpack…it’s so luxe looking. Danish designs do seem to be very refined functional and artful.
    While you are waking with a backpack I am walking with a crossbody bag.
    Hands free seems to be the way to go when getting the most exercise out of one’s pedestrian commute!

  19. Ooh, I like that Danish bag. You might also check out the M0851 Urban backpack. Their designs are always so well thought out; they work! And their leathers are gorgeous, aging into real character. Most importantly, for me, their leather is very lightweight, so that while the pack won’t be as light as that Prada, it will be quite comfortable. Not in Hermes orange, though, more’s the pity. . .

  20. You could not have found a more perfect backpack for yourself! I didn’t have high hopes as I was slowly scrolling down the list of options, but then gasped in delight when I saw it. Perfect.

  21. I’m going against the tide here, but I’d choose the Prada. Lightweight, black, more sophisticated, and I think would work with the colors you wear (which are similar to mine.)
    The Danish orange one is great too, but stands out too much for me.

  22. Oh, I definitely own a few in the style of those artsy models. Textiles from Bolivia, from my dear best friend. Actually not a backpack, but more of a messenger bag.
    But I love the last two , in red and orange and I have an obsession with unicorns. It reminded me of a book, “Paraiso Inhabitado” by Ana Maria Matute, but I do not know if it is translated in english, can not seem to find it…

  23. Paula – I confess, I really don’t like bicycles. I find them very uncomfortable most of the time. I was planning on getting an upright bike, for shopping in the suburbs, and that might have been fun. But in San Francisco, I’d be nervous to ride with the traffic. Also, I don’t mind buying a new backpack:). That said, I think your bike basket is cute:).

    Jan – Hooray! Once in 2 years? Not bad:).

    Patsy – I have been thinking about getting a smaller wristlet bag for wallet and cellphone when I’m at work. Makes perfect sense.

    Lily Lemontree – So exciting. I’m hovering on the edge too.

    Danielle – That’s exactly the Sturdy Gal look! And what I’m trying to evolve for myself:). I love the Cloisters – haven’t been in ages.

  24. Joy – And why not:)?

    Cynthia – I kind of like their “Sonoma” packs. Thanks for the recommendation.

    Mette – It’s San Francisco. Everyone of all ages gets a lot of leeway. And I want to even my body out, even if I’m not carrying the laptop. But I do understand I am sacrificing some elegance.

    Worhty – Thank you! I am SO tempted.

    TPP – It’s been lovely to have your company in the journey…it really did shock my family when I bought the LV.

  25. Diana – Love your sense of humor. I confess I hadn’t yet thought about how this could make me look:).

    FF – xoxoxoxo. Have not done the tree yet because I still buy live ones, and we’ve got Thanksgiving first. But I’m thinking about it, and about you and cute baby boy’s first Christmas.

    Mise – You dare. And to eat a peach as well:).

    Susan Tiner – A nice red one? Purple? Emerald green?

    Marion – Yes, good to remind us of the Longchamps. And the Vuitton, you know, how could that have escaped my mind!?!?!

  26. Mary – I will take a look. I would carry the pack to work, and then have a smaller bag for my stuff if I go out for lunch. Or at least such is my vision. I could be wrong…

    RoseAG – I am having a wild fantasy of an orange pack, a pink scarf, and a navy Barbour. What do we think! Good idea on the reflector. I thought about it tonight as I walked home.

    SSG – Yes. How well put. Purposeful.

    Town and Country – Oh do lets be twins. Book bags? Interesting. Here in California if we say book bag we mean a cloth shoulder tote, or satchel.

  27. Hostess – Thank you! And hands free all the way.

    Mater – OK. I will look. Every since you wrote about it, I’ve kept my eye out for that brand.

    Dawn – Aw. Thank you!

    kathy – Until I did this research, that’s exactly what I was thinking.

    Amanda – Unicorns. Have you ever read The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle? A book from my childhood.

    1. The Last Unicorn… I did not read it but I saw a movie . And I was meaning to tell you… I never read “The Pearl diver” but I have the complete stories of Hans Christian Andersen back at my parents’ home and I will look for it. Thanks .

  28. Thank you for showing our Red Scoutmaster Pack! We have been hand-making bags in Duluth, MN for 130 years! 100 years still in the same factory. We appreciate your kindness and for supporting American Made.

    1. DuluthPackMolly! Thank you for showing up and saying hello to everyone. Much appreciated. Just FYI, if you’d like to sponsor a giveaway for my readers, I’m happy to oblige. The red pack is killer:).

  29. I’ve been too busy to blog so I feel totally out of it…but I wanted to check in with you. Did you get a job?
    Oh how I would love to be able to walk to work and back home evey day…and skip the hour of wasted time in traffic!
    I love the Prada backpack. It’s a classic.

  30. Being relatively new here, this may be a terrible faux pas, but for those with shoulder and back (and/or pocketbook!) issues, where weightlessenss is mandatory, I have to recommend the wonderful backpacks of Vera Bradley.

    I swore for years I would never be caught dead with one of those “grandma bags” on my shoulder until I bought one for my niece in a lovely pink/green combination (think Bermuda!) as a graduation present several years ago and was immediately converted. The company produces well-made, reasonably-priced bags that last FOREVER. Some of their more recent fabrics have a serious Liberty of London vibe (and it doesn’t get any better than Liberty of London!). Mind you, you have to choose carefully as they still produce the occasional matronly fabric, but all in all, they’re really sweet and a quick way to brighten up a dull outfit. My preference is “discontinued” fabrics — much cheaper and they just suit my “older is always better” bias. I have a small backpack in “Kensington” that delightfully works with both black AND brown, and in Paisley to boot!

    Mind you, Vera Bradely is outsourcing to China these days, so I also recommend buying gently used for that reason, as well. But they’re wonderfully practical and a great find for those with health issues where carrying a big riding-leather satchel is the stuff of distant memories or rainy day fantasies.


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