On the feeds of social media and the streets of fashion week, itty-bitty toy purses have been the designated It-bags of the moment. But Joseph Altuzarra didn’t want to create a one-season hit, rather, he was set on making a wear-forever staple that could carry more than your lipstick and spare change. “From the very beginning I was like ‘I do not want to design an Instagram bag,” he said. “I think we’ve sort of gone through a phase of bags that were essentially little objects made for Instagram, but I do think there is a return to the real bag. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation around a bag that is a daily, day-to-night structure beyond the regular rectangular shapes you see and I think that’s something that I really wanted to focus on.”
Enter the Altuzarra Play Bag. Two years in the making and a union of functionality and sensuality that found harmony in an upgraded classic hobo shape. “We introduced the Play bags in the Altuzarra Autumn/Winter 2019 collection and part of the design really centred around the idea of functionality,” said Altuzarra, who was in Hong Kong for his first Pre-Spring 2020 runway show with Centrestage and JOYCE. “No matter what kind of work we do or the type of lives we live, all of us are going from one place to the next and have to carry so many things in our bags. I love the idea of creating a bag that you can just kind of put your life in and carry in different ways depending on what you are wearing.”
What makes the Play Bag so attractive is indeed its versatility in style and wear. Available in two sizes and a variety of neutral colour schemes, the soft, curved shape features a grained leather and suede exterior adorned with gold metal buckles that cinch at the edge, reminiscent of bondage straps and nodding to American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe’s evocative images. “There’s a raw sexiness that I wanted the bag to capture and it came together very nicely. It went through multiple iterations and we tried different things, different shapes, and I think what we landed on really captures the spirit of that Mapplethorpe-y, very sensual feeling but also has the pragmatism we were really looking for.” The Play bag features a sturdy leather strap that’s adjustable in length, allowing for numerous styling options — over the shoulder, across the body, or as a handbag. “When you’re designing a bag the function is so important — it’s the weight of it, the type of leather you’re going to use, and the functionality in terms of how you’re going to carry it.”
The bag evokes the two sides of the Altuzarra woman’s identity: the public persona, classic and timeless, and the hidden alter ego, darker and undone.
“I think the most difficult part was the wear testing. It’s so interesting — you can design something and think that you’ve considered all of the details but once you actually start using it you realise ‘oh this pocket is a little too shallow, this part of the leather gets damaged too easily, or this part of the buckle is a little painful on the shoulder.’” And I think that can sometimes be the most annoying thing to deal with because you spend so long designing something and then you have to keep on changing these small things. But in the end, I actually think that’s what makes it so special — that you spend so much time making it as perfect as you can.”