The Appeal of Japanese Simplicity

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For almost twenty years now, I’ve never understood the popularity or cult-like-following that Porter seems to enjoy. Porter, for those unfamiliar, is a Japanese bag company. They have something like 130 sub-lines, which together offer something like 1,500 different products. It’s enough to give someone paralysis from choice.

Porter was started in the early 1960s, but I only became familiar with the brand in the mid-90s, when I worked with streetwear designers on various marketing campaigns and fashion photoshoots. Then, as now, Japan played an important role in setting trends in the US, and everyone I knew who flew to Japan on the regular had an undying love for Porter. Businessmen, students, and style enthusiasts alike all carried these bags, they told me.

I didn’t understand it because, given the price, I always thought the bags should be made from a rich, full grain leather, not the kind of nylons and cottons that Porter is famous for. Recently, however, on a whim, I bought this “tanker” briefcase from Club Monaco, and … it’s amazing. Since owning it, I’ve only picked up my other causal bags on occasion – mostly to move them from one side of a room to another as I organize things in my apartment.

The key is to not think of nylon as a “cheap” material, or get hung up on price, but rather to think of design as a whole and how often you’ll use the case. Nylon here makes for a wonderful casual fabric. It weighs much less than leather or cotton canvas, which is useful if you have to schlep your belongings for several miles. It’s also more water resistant and keeps to a fairly casual sensibility – great if you, like me, are often trying to make sure you don’t look too formal or stiff. And while I hate to invoke the utterly hackneyed “think of this as cost per use” adage, it’s true that the price is considerably less painful once you find yourself reaching for a Porter bag every day. Plus, these things are just so handsomely designed. They have the same pared down simplicity that make other Japanese products, such as those from Muji and Uniqlo, forever appealing, but are made to a high-quality standard.

Porter bags are sold all over East Asia, but in the US, you can find them pretty reliably at Saks Fifth AvenueClub Monaco, as I mentioned, also recently picked up a few models. For online shopping, The Corner carries some of the more popular designs, while Mr. Porter and No Man Walks Alone have a selection of more unique makes. Porter also has collaborations with Monocle and The Armoury, the second of which includes a smartly designed travel bag. The travel briefcase has a nice leather trim along the edges that helps soften the technical appearance of the bag, while still allowing it to look comfortably appropriate in any business or off-hours setting. Like all Porter designs, that one strikes me as something you could use for the majority of your “stuff-carrying” needs. 

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