September stirs a “back-to-school” feeling – whatever your age. And what do you need at the top of your list? A smart new bag.
It might sound silly, but having a bag large enough to fit all your daily essentials, in their own specific places, really can help you feel polished and pulled together.
It’s a concept that encouraged Anya Hindmarch to design her latest style, the Mortimer – a leather bag that looks somewhere between a handbag and a briefcase, with internal marked pockets for cards, purse and pens.
“I’m obsessed with anything that helps me feel organised and in control,” Hindmarch says. “I’ve got five kids, a business, and I need to have everything in its right place; if it is, then I feel on top of the world. Otherwise, I feel like I’m drowning.”
After seasons of tiny clutches and micro bags reigning supreme, XL bags and totes are staging a return. At Matches Fashion, sales of more capacious styles have grown by more than 290 per cent. Which makes total sense: I can’t have been the only one who has spent the summer with a tiny bag slung across my chest, whilst simultaneously carrying around a less-than-attractive cotton tote with all the things I actually needed for the day.
Cassie Smart, head of womenswear buying, says customers are now looking for “softer silhouettes that feel effortless and wearable”. She says that brands such as Khaite, The Row, Bottega Veneta and Hereu are currently popular. On the high street, Sézane has a gorgeously soft camel-coloured leather bag (£360; Sézane), while Mango has a slouchy suede bag for £59.99 (Mango). Canadian label Lambert also offers their vegan leather Le Helena bag for a fair price (£98, Lambert)
Practicality is high on the list for stylist Sarah Corbett-Winder, who is about to buy a rich suede shoulder bag from Arket that “is chic, yet practical – it fits a laptop, and goes with a huge range of outfits. There is a middle zip compartment, which is ideal for all your treasured pieces, and it fits perfectly on your shoulder.” She’s unconcerned about getting a few marks on the surface: “Just like us, it will get better with age.” (£249; Arket)
Sheena Bhattessa, editor of the digital travel publication Citizen Femme, recommends a leather tote – a classy update on the canvas shopper. “Size is everything in a bag for me, as well as versatility,” she says. “It has to be big enough to fit my laptop, but stylish enough that I can adapt and use it on weekends.” She has one by DeMellier (£435; Matches Fashion); while Been London, which makes bags from recycled leather in its east London workshop, has a suitably autumnal burnt-orange version (£108; Been London).
Personally, after feeling less-than-smart for the past few seasons, I’m now drawn to a more formal bag. “A structured bag looks more fresh because it does look more pulled together,” agrees designer Dara Hamarneh. “I love a fuss-free look, and knowing that everything and then some can fit in a bag.” Her own 925 Al Mare, which is an oversized rigid handbag reminiscent of one my very stylish grandmother had, fits under the arm and adds instant chicness (£600; Dara Hamarneh).
Marina Raphael, founder of the eponymous brand, designed her Riviera bag – which looks like a smart leather handbag, but functions well as a laptop bag – to have a central zip compartment (£1,043; Marina Raphael). “This allows me to store my laptop, sketchpad, pens, chargers, scarf – because I am always cold – and much more. To me, the balance of strong architecturally inspired design and practicality is essential.”
For ultimate back-to-school vibes, the Cambridge Satchel Co has a Briefcase (£320; Cambridge Satchel Co), which also comfortably fits a laptop inside.
There’s another back-to-school bag I have in my life that’s even more nostalgic: a rucksack. In terms of practicality, they are unbeatable, not only for versatility, but for protecting backs and shoulders, too. I find sticking with a plain black design works best; after much testing, the Lululemon Everywhere backpack fits a laptop and is a great all-rounder (£68; Lululemon). But I’m also a runner and have recently stumbled across the Athlete Backpack by Stolt Running, which looks sleek, is supportive when you run and can fit a laptop, which many can’t (£149; Stolt Running).
There are practical new bags for all – it’s time to upgrade and smarten up for the season ahead.