Is there any greater honour, any finer form of flattery than having a posh, practical and well-designed bag named after you, asks Nick Foulkes
MAYBE I AM a lone man in a woman’s world, but I do not think so. In the interests of busting a pernicious gender stereotype I would argue that men are just as capable of developing an emotional attachment to their bags as women.
This truth came home to me the other day when I opened a copy of GQ (of which I am luxury editor). I came across a piece explaining how Anya Hindmarch had made and named a bag for the editor, Dylan Jones. While delighted for my old friend I would be lying if I said that I had not experienced the teensiest scintilla of envy. This is, after all, the ultimate immortality; I would guess that a sizeable proportion of the women in thrall to the cult of the Hermès Birkin bag are ignorant of the dramatic and musical oeuvre of its eponym, and yet they know her name and what is more entertain only happy thoughts about it.
Once my mind was no longer befuddled by the green mist of envy, I set to thinking about the relationship between a man and his bag. And I do not mean the black ballistic nylon body bag we zip, lock and with a final prayer consign to the roulette wheel of the airport carousel. Whenever I see my luggage disappear along the tapis roulant and into the maw behind the check-in desk I experience the pang of parting and the fear that it will not appear at the other end. But at least I can console myself that I have my other bag, or bags, to hand. This is the luggage that matters, my personal survival kit, crammed with all the talismans and trinkets without which I would not feel, well, me.
The contents list of my hand luggage will usually include: a BlackBerry; a Bluetooth headset I can seldom find; an iPod I seldom use; a paperback book; my Sony electronic book; my size zero laptop (another Sony); a Sony digital camera (I really should think about getting myself sponsored by Sony); a Gordian ball of cabling to connect said devices (with exception of paperback) to each other; a Smythson diary and notebook (should BlackBerry and computer fail); a gossamer weight piece of cashmere knitwear; a few Havana cigars in tubes or in one of my vintage alligator skin Ducas cigar sleeves; a lighter; and a variety of writing instruments.
Of course, this equipment is usually entirely unnecessary and there are times when I watch in admiration as someone boards a plane equipped only with a newspaper tucked under the arm, but I know I cannot achieve such Zen-like equanimity. I would feel unclothed were I to submit myself to the travails of modern air travel without a bag in my hand. It is not as a receptacle that the bag is important, rather for its role as a little bit of order amid the entropy of modern life.
FAR FROM BEING a merely functional, reticular accessory, the bag is a part of this personal reliquary and an important component in the continuous fancy-dress party that is my life. And so, over the years I have assembled a wardrobe of hand luggage, from vintage Vuitton to Valextra, and yet, my thirst remains unslaked.
You see, I manage to imbue each new bag I see with life-changing properties: it will transform my travelling experience into something more glamorous. I think on some level I believe that it will help me become Richard Burton or a young Heini Thyssen, striding purposefully to my own aircraft some time during the 1960s or 1970s, a few necessary items in the handsome bag clutched in my fist.
I think that what defines a great man’s bag is the sense of order it imposes: take for instance a piece by Dunhill that is superbly detailed: the computer is housed in a central sleeve that can be lifted out without opening the bag, and there is a slot, a pouch, a loop, a pocket for everything, including an outer strap system for carrying a furled newspaper.
And yet, however highly developed and personally detailed a piece of personal luggage may be, I cannot help wondering what life would be like with yet another bag to put stuff in. I was recently given a 48-hour bag to test-drive by Smythson — it is in a hard-wearing grained leather with enough zipped-compartment and fold-down garment storage possibilities to keep me occupied for hours, loading it up with stuff. And it was while priming it for a recent trip to Italy that I realised that, were I to have my name appended to a piece of luggage, I might be depriving myself of the harmless pleasure of hankering after another bag, fruitlessly imagining how my life would be closer to the elusive goal of completeness with a further piece of hand luggage.
You see, if I were to have an eponymous piece I would feel obliged to use it to the exclusion of all others, and thus deny myself the pleasure of an omnivorous diet of hand luggage… at least, that is what I am trying to tell myself every time I pass one of Anya’s shops.