Blame the Messenger
An ageless classic for modern life
By PAMELA DITTMER MCKUEN
From its modest beginnings as a rugged courier carryall, the messenger
bag has been delivered to runway shows and all points between. Function
is fashionable in this day and age, says Kristina Moreno, president of
the online retailer Handbago: All Things Handbag. “People are on the go—they need to be practical,” she says.
“Messenger bags appeal to both men and women because they are both
utilitarian and a great classic style.”
The messenger bag can be traced to the 1950s when it was first
produced by Frank De Martini, a sail maker in New York City, for
linemen who needed to keep their tools close at hand while they
shimmied up and down utility poles. Bicycle messengers adopted them as
their own in the ‘70s. De Martini has passed, but his work carries on
at the De Martini Globe Canvas Co.
The androgynous design of the messenger bag hasn’t changed much over
the years. They are mostly rectangular and single-strapped, intended to
be slung over the shoulder or diagonally across the torso, lie close
and flat and keep hands free. Today’s models add features that reflect
modern life: side gussets for water bottles and sunglasses, cell phone
holsters, large and small document pockets, padded laptop compartments
and sometimes sturdy rather than slouchy construction. Messenger bags
have been translated into athletic, professional, couture and funky
“There are a lot of variations, but they haven’t gotten far from that original style from 60 years ago,” says Moreno.
Perhaps the messenger bag’s greatest asset is its versatility.
Depending on the materials and features, it can serve as a portable
office, a small suitcase or a pet carrier.
“We’re even seeing them carried to evening events,” says Moreno.
Chicago handbag designer Joelle Minassian sports a messenger bag
while shopping for exotic leathers at the Italian trade shows. It’s the
most workable choice—a luggage cart slows her down and backpacks aren’t
very easy to reach into, she says.
“They key decision when buying a messenger bag is usually about
material: fabric versus leather,” says Minassian of Joelle Nadine
Designs and consultant to Laudi Vidni custom handbags. “The latter
tends to be heavier, but offers a more polished, professional image. On
the other hand, fabric is more durable through water and heat, and it
suggests a more casual look.”
Among the considerations are Pandora Billy by Givenchy, a
multi-tasker with rolled ostrich leather handle and removal shoulder
strap. The Nanny by Jamah is a unisex diaper bag that’s been
photographed on the shoulders of Jessica Alba and Brad Pitt. Tory Burch
studs her work, and Coach wraps it in a new op art signature pattern.
And the usually staid Kenneth Cole takes a break with a canvas eco-tote
that implores, “Don’t Shoot the Messenger.” We won’t.
Published: February 07, 2010
Issue: February 2010 Innovation Issue