September 16, 2011 10:02 pm

All in the bag

Have Bill Amberg and fashion blogger Imran Amed created the ultimate work ‘tote’ that will appeal to both men and women? Three volunteers test it

Back in January 2010, CNN asked me, as the writer of a blog on the fashion business, about the meaning of luxury. After the interview, leather accessories designer Bill Amberg got in touch to ask if I would be interested in designing a bag with him that would be for both men and women. I wasn’t sure if he liked what I said on television, or just strongly disapproved of the bag I was carrying, but I jumped at the opportunity.

Over the next few months, I quizzed my friends about what they needed from a work bag. I knew I needed something with high functionality that would protect technology, but the bag also had to be stylish, go from business meetings to evening events, and hold documents, technology, and even some gym kit.

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When I explained this, Amberg suggested we create a tote. I hesitated: the trendy shape might be a turn-off for some men. But then I remembered a Dior Homme tote I had, and recalled the fact that I had seen plenty of men carrying totes in fabric and leather. I decided it was an acceptable risk.

We cushioned the leather with neoprene, added five internal pockets and lined the interior with suede. The Calgary bag, which costs £295 ($466), comes in three finishes – grey patent, black and chocolate brown leather. What will people make of it? We’re about to find out.

www.billamberg.com

Imran Amed is founder and editor of www.businessoffashion.com

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Alexandra Lebenthal, chief executive

I have a pretty busy life. I am chief executive of the financial advisory firm Lebenthal & Co and its wealth management arm, Alexandra & James, which I started in 2007; I am a CNBC contributor; an author; and a contributing editor for www.newyorksocialdiary.com. I have three children aged seven to 17, and do a lot of work with charities, all of which is to say, every day I cart around papers, bills, invitations, a laptop, iPad, iPod and BlackBerry. As a result, I have very strong feelings – and complaints – about the bags in which I cart all this stuff.

The complaints centre on two issues: 1) I sometimes look as if I’m hauling a laundry bag around; 2) I don’t have enough pockets in the bag to actually be able to differentiate what I’m carrying. I cannot count the number of times I’ve searched for my BlackBerry, becoming ever more panicked that I’ve lost it, only to discover it hidden under a manila folder.

So when a new bag arrived that purported to solve my problems, I was intrigued. I carried the grey patent Bill Amberg around for about a week and found that it was a lot easier to manage than many of the other briefcases or bags I’ve used in the past – and I have probably used a dozen over the years. All my electronic equipment fitted easily in the space provided, and having separate compartments for my BlackBerry and iPod meant that I could find them right away, a huge advantage.

I was able to fit my two daily newspapers in the bag without shoving and thus rendering them unreadable, and I also still had room for the stack of bills to be paid that my husband leaves in my purse, not to mention student health forms, insurance claims, invitations needing a response and any other papers I was carrying between home and office.

Not only that, I had separate compartments for all of the above. And once in the office, the fact that the bag was structured enough to stand up on its own instead of schlumping in a corner made my desk area immediately look neater, while the grey patent leather and minimalist shape worked well with most of the decor.

As it happens, the week in which I carried the bag I was also getting off crutches (I had slipped off my front doorstep and pulled a tendon and ligament). The large shoulder strap enabled me to put the bag over my shoulder without fear of falling; additional handles provided another carrying option. They were especially useful when it came to packing it full of all that ... stuff.

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Sam Hopkins, fund manager

My first briefcase was a present from an old girlfriend. I overstuffed it with newspapers, documents, CDs, small laptops, running shorts – and, much like our relationship, the bag disintegrated after a couple of years.

From then on, I have stuck with functional, if not particularly elegant, bags. Recently, however, with an upcoming re-launch of our hedge fund, I knew the mud- and sweat-stained orange-and-black sporty Head backpack I used was no longer an option. Enter the Bill Amberg bag.

At first glance, it corrected the shortcomings of my old girlfriend’s offering: in brown leather, it had a large and adjustable shoulder strap (two, in fact), was more capacious, and its opening meant all the contents were instantly accessible. The bag itself was organised into nifty compartments, and mesh separators allowed wet swim trunks or sweaty tennis gear to reside next to sensitive electronic devices.

As an added stress test, I took the bag on a family trip to Florida, which meant cramming it full of children’s books and clothes, passports and travel documents, a laptop, crayons and mindless works of Swedish detective fiction. The bag always seemed to have room for yet another Hannah Montana magazine or extra bottle of sunscreen – and still made it back to the office in almost perfect shape (a triumph I cannot claim for myself).

All of which makes it sound great, and in many ways, it was. Except ... “I think my mum used to have a bag like that,” said a colleague. “She used to take it with her down to the Co-op to do the shopping.”

“Nice man-bag,” said my wife.

And there you have it: everyone will refer to this most elegant and functional of briefcases as a “man-bag”. If you’re secure enough in your masculinity to suffer such slings and arrows, then don’t sweat it. If not, then you should look for something more macho: a steel frame backpack, say, or a Royal Marines duffel bag.

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Tomo Murakami, advertising director

For me, a bag must meet the following criteria: First, it must look good; second, it must be functional; and third, it must be durable. I work for an ad agency, so I need a bag that can fit notebooks and documents, but that isn’t too big. By this measure, the Bill Amberg generally works, though it is larger than I would usually choose; I reckon it would look better on someone a bit taller than me (I am 5ft 8in).

I like to keep both of my hands free at all times, so the shoulder strap is a must. I also like a bag that can sit comfortably above my waist line and hips, putting it in contact with my body at all times – that way, there is no chance of misplacing it in a bar or forgetting it on the train.

The bag’s black leather is extremely soft and smooth, and a pleasure to touch. I expect it will age very well. The design is understated and simple, though perhaps a zip just below the inside top rim would be useful to shut out rain or stray hands. The suede lining is a nice touch and the brass caps on the bottom should prolong the bag’s lifespan.

I would not recommend it to anyone who needs to carry around a lot for a long period of time, but it will suit creative types with larger documents to carry, and who might want to include a few magazines in addition to their laptop.

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