Back when I was a newly titled fashion editor (now I’m head of fashion at Dazed) and first deciding to sink a significant amount of cash into a handbag, I made a couple of expensive mistakes. Take the beautiful silver Saint Laurent bowling bag I was too scared to use in case I scratched its perfect metallic surface. Or the far too grown-up Prada deerskin tote I thought would make me feel like I had my shit together but that I lived in fear might get soaked in a sudden London downpour.
It turned out that I was not someone who could own a bag that just looked nice — I needed one that I could wear without having heart palpitations every time someone brushed past me on the tube. I needed the kind of bag busy women have been relying on for decades. I needed a Prada Vela backpack.
A quick history lesson: In 1984, Miuccia Prada (who had pivoted from feminist organiser within the Italian Communist Party to working at her family’s leather-goods company) created a black, leather-trimmed nylon backpack. Unadorned with logos — save a small triangular nameplate — the bag was the antithesis of ’80s excess but prophesied the sporty minimalism of the coming decade. By 1990, adopted by both editors watching shows in Paris and busy young New Yorkers (as photographed by Bill Cunningham), Prada’s first ‘It’ bag had been well and truly born, ushering in a new era for the house and setting it on a path towards megabrandom.
Almost 40 years later, and the Prada backpack’s cult status shows no sign of dimming — it’s been immortalised in teen movies (“I like my Skechers, but I love my Prada backpack”, 10 Things I Hate About You) and institutions (it was featured in MoMA’s ‘Is Fashion Modern?’ exhibition in 2017). As of today, there are over 27,000 posts on Instagram tagged #pradabackpack.
Prada’s nylon — which the brand has recently committed to making more sustainable — is made of industrial-grade fabric used for army tents, meaning I can blithely hurl my backpack onto airport conveyors, stuff it with gym clothes, and wear it in the rain like it’s no big deal. The classic size is deceptively spacious (easily accommodating a small laptop, book, pair of Birkenstocks), and when it gets dirty, I simply wipe the surface, occasionally sticking a hoover in to suck out whatever has gathered in the lining.
They retail for between £820 and £1,220, which, I know, feels like kind of an obscene amount to spend on a backpack. If your budget doesn’t stretch, consider looking to Herschel. To me, though, you can’t beat Prada. These bags can last decades — check out Vestiaire Collective (where you can swipe a vintage or used bag for considerably less than the RRP) for proof.
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