I’ve always been a fabric tote gal. They’re cheap, colourful, lightweight, washable, and the simplest reduction of the increasingly fussy handbag. It’s so difficult to find a clean, efficient shape. When I started working, I bought myself a cloth-lined faux leather tan tote from Mango. They were on sale and I got lucky. It had no pockets and was so roomy it could fit my laptop, two notebooks, a bulky wallet and a balled up wool muffler. I’ve lost count of the number of strangers on the Metro who asked me where it was from. My favorite was a sweet salesgirl in a shop, asking if it was still available and looking terribly guilty because this was a competing brand. I wore the bag down to pieces. It lasted me two years. Since then, I’ve never quite found a replacement, but I have found some pretty good bags. Huzzah for the internet.
This medium-sized kalamkari bucket bag from Tjori looks like something young Jane Birkin would own. For most of her life, this iconic actor-model-singer-songwriter has been associated with a unique brand of scruffy simplicity. For years, she wore only white t shirts and blue jeans and went everywhere barefaced, messy bangs framing her big beautiful eyes. But her signature accessory was a woven straw tote. It had a sturdy inflexible handle and a gaping top that threatened to spill everything, but it went with her everywhere. The one time it didn’t, Jane ended up making history. “I remember it well.”, she told the Telegraph. “I’d been upgraded by Air France on a flight to London, and was sitting next to a man. I’m not quite sure what type of bag I had with me – my husband, Jacques Doillon, had reversed his car over my basket, crushed it on purpose not two days before. Little did he know that on this airplane journey, when everything fell out of whatever bag I had, the man next to me said: ‘You should have one with pockets’. I said: ‘The day Hermès make one with pockets I will have that’, and he said: ‘But I am Hermès and I will put pockets in for you’.” This man was Jean-Louis Dumas, chief executive of Hermès, and Jane doodled him a prototype on a sickbag because she had no paper. That’s how the wildly coveted Birkin was born- a husband’s cruelty, a not-good-enough replacement bag that couldn’t contain its cargo, and a handy surface to draw on. I feel a thrill every time I hear the story.
After a successful, much-photographed run with her namesake, Jane Birkin has ditched it because it no longer felt right. Now seventy and still as elegant as ever, she told the BBC this year that if, like her, you were filling it up with “junk… and half the furniture from your house, it’s a very, very heavy bag…now I fill my pockets like a man, because then you don’t actually have to carry anything.” Classy broad!
Back to the kalamkari bucket bag now. I bought it on sale for Rs. 1599 and have been using it for three months. It’s holding up nicely. It can fit a large wallet, your phone and its accessories, a couple of small paperbacks, your glasses and your shades, a vast cotton scarf, a 500 ml water bottle, and your medicine bag. Like Hermione Granger’s tiny beaded carryall pimped with the Undetectable Extension Charm, this deceptively small bag can lug a lot of stuff. It’s lined with cloth and has two small pockets, one zipped and the other open, for keys, change and stationery. The shoulder strap is non- extendable and short-ish, so when slung over your shoulder, the bag reaches your midriff. The tassels and the top and bottom materials are leatherette, which means it still looks good as new. I keep the tassels tied loosely, so I can reach easily for whatever it is I want. The kalamkari is pretty and I’m still trying to figure out what school it is. If you know what it is, please do share.
Available here. Should last two years with considerate use.
Jane Birkin Image via Vogue UK