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The handbag as madeleine

October weather arrived right on time in New York yesterday, with all of its attendant rain and gloom. And so I went digging in the closet for the most weatherproof bag I could find to transport my laptop around the corner to the cafe where I sometimes go to write, and came up with this Sandqvist messenger bag, which I purchased right before I went to Europe in June. I hadn’t used it since I’d returned home, and the interior was a nice little trip back in time: various denominations of Euros and big red tablets of French aspirin littered the bottom of the bag, along with the boarding pass for my flight home, and a card from the Paris boutique  L’Ecalaireur that I’d saved because the logo was so cool. (Don’t you kind of love when you grab a bag you haven’t used in ages and encounter a mini-time capsule when you open it? Ticket stubs from a movie you went to on a first date? A lipstick you’d loved and lost? A wedding shower invitation for a close friend currently in couple’s therapy? Even just a half-consumed, long-forgotten  container of Tic-Tacs can send me into a torpor of nostalgia.)

A vintage print ad for the most perfect book bag that ever was

I love this Sandqvist bag—and not only because it got me through the trip so well, working not only as an excellent carry-on, but as my daily schlep-around-the-city carryall. But also because it reminded me of the Danish Schoolbags that my college roommate Margaret—and all the other cool private school girls from New York —showed up with my freshman year at Oberlin. It had exterior pockets and a big outside zipper that made it expandable enough to carry all of one’s  books. Suddenly my backpack—which was standard issue for the kids at my hippie-preppy New England boarding school—felt shamefully uncool. The Danish Schoolbag wasn’t insanely expensive—like $90 if I recall correctly—but the status it conferred was sterling. The first morning of my first fall break in the city, I took off like a shot to Chocolate Soup, the (long gone) Upper East Side children’s store that had the city’s Danish Schoolbag monopoly. I bought a blue one and carried it until it was worn into the ground.

You can not find Danish Schoolbags anywhere anymore,* and they are mourned by many (here is a very sweet piece that ran in the LA times in 2002). And yet they still appear to be produced. It’s all quite puzzling. I tracked down the Dutch company that makes them to look into the matter, but I’m keeping my expectations well-managed. And also considering whether what I miss most might not actually be the bag, but 1983.

••There is an American Danish Souperbag website but it isn’t official and is, sadly, somewhat of a boondoggle.

UPDATE! UPDATE! UPDATE! Commenter heathmitch has tracked down a store in Germany called Scandinavian Objects that sells Danish Schoolbags in black and grey. This is very exciting. I have the best commenters.

UPDATE OF THE UPDATE: Scandinavian Objects is sold out. We soldier on.

 

Tags: , ,
Posted on October 3rd, 2012 26 Comments

26 Responses

  1. Rosanne says:

    I carried the schoolbag all through college and miss it too! I kept mine long after it looked like hell as it was such a great bag — but agree nostalgia could be for who I was when I carried it, rather than the bag.

  2. Amy says:

    Is it weird that I now really, really want one of these even though I wasn’t aware of them 10 minutes ago?

  3. joannawnyc says:

    I remember those! I didn’t like them, though, because I hated the colors. Too preppy.

    Which makes no sense, since I am nothing if not preppy.

  4. Hilarie says:

    Ms. Sundell was already pulling a retro move with reviving the Chocolate Soup bag in 1983. One could not cut it in my all-girls fifth grade homeroom (circa 1975)without the requisite Chocolate Soup bag (mine was brown). And where oh where are my long-lost Bermuda Shop fair isles??

  5. blackbird says:

    Oh, god!
    The Green Bag. That’s what we called it. I bought it as a diaper bag and…well, it served us perfectly for many years.

  6. clr says:

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1291&dat=20021025&id=2mc1AAAAIBAJ&sjid=F44DAAAAIBAJ&pg=6251,6613511

    A great story. Tried the URL in the clipping but that site is gone.

    The Danish schoolbag. I met my best friend because one night at a party I put my bag down for a second, and when I turned around, there was a strange woman going through it – panicking because none of her stuff was in it. We both had the same bag. My ex husband took it. I never thought I’d be upset about it but I never was able to replace it.

  7. alyssa says:

    i want one. i’m assuming that my own hippy preppy boarding school, then crazy art college, kept me from seeing these till today. i feel cheated. my own freshman roommate was being hid at our college under an assumed name…

  8. Maggie says:

    I wanted that bag with the burning fire of a thousand acne breakouts when I was 17 in 1977. It was advertised in the back of Mademoiselle magazine, which was my bible. I never saw one in person. I am glad it was all I dreamed it was.

  9. Ulrica says:

    I think the Sandqvist bags are Swedish?
    Anyways, here is the webshop
    http://www.sandqvist.net/en/

  10. Margie says:

    If anyone has a connection to a U.S retailer that can procure the bags for sale here in the US please suggest that they stock up. Could be a great revival.

  11. Bria says:

    “Even just a half-consumed, long-forgotten container of Tic-Tacs can send me into a torpor of nostalgia.” TOTALLY.

    I’m so grateful that you’re writing–yours is one of the first emails I open every morning.

    • Viajera says:

      Yes, and here is a rare example of how it can sometimes be good not to be a neatnik. If you were a neatnik, the tictacs would have been thrown out or eaten already, and the container recycled or what-not.

      Though, on the other hand, neatniks make scrapbooks, and they look through them. But, is that the same thing, or is that a more edited version of the past, relative to cr*p that gets left in pockets?

      As for the bag, I recall having something similar, that I found (afaik) from an ad in the back of a magazine, though I have no conscious memory of ever being much of an Esquire reader (though I did have a VF phase). But I don’t think it had a name. Could it have been the back of the Nation? I recall it being very useful but I don’t think it ever got me into any kind of sorority, and I had no idea there was one.

    • KimFrance says:

      You are too kind. And I am crazy for those Cobra Rock boots you put on your blog. I want them right now!

  12. faith says:

    I know it’s not exactly the same as the Danish one, but it sounds quite similar to the sort of bags being made by Brady (but with more pockets).

    http://www.bradybags.co.uk/

    I’ve got the large ariel trout, which is big enough for a4 folders, and has poppers inside so you can attach different liners (so I made myself one with lots of pockets). It’s made out of heavy waterproof canvas, with a wide adjustable strap, and brass stud fastenings. My Dad has had the sandringham for 20 years and it’s still going strong, so they have good levels of wearability.

    I’d definitely recommend Brady as a good alternative if you end up not being able to source the Danish one.

  13. Linda Kenyon says:

    I can’t do without a great messenger bag–this one’s a beauty but a bit “dear”–my sweet daughter loaned me her grey cord bag until I can settle on one!

  14. Hannah says:

    Here’s an American retailer that has the bags:

    http://www.danishsouperbag.com/frameset.html

    If that link doesn’t work try http://www.danishsouperbag.org

    No credit cards accepted :) Not sure if they’re in stock, either.

  15. Lauren Viera says:

    Love the Sandqvist bag, & immediately thought of The Last Bag:
    http://www.pietbreinholm.dk/products

    They’re perfect, modern Danish schoolbags based on a vintage model, designed by a great Dane called Piet Breinholm. He was in a band you might know, 18th Dye…which, of course, makes these bags that much cooler.

    For your FYI, as they say.

  16. Liz says:

    I had entirely forgotten about these. I had one for years! (At one of those Manhattan girls schools, natch.) The strap became all frayed and the pockets were ink stained and I loved that thing and now I’m going to cry because I had completely forgotten it even existed.

  17. Jasmine says:

    I never had one, but always did because so many of my classmates at one of those Manhattan girls schools did.

    I just emailed Mr. Reynolds of danishsouperbag.com and he says he has 23 black bags left – $225, plus $9 shipping.