Bags exist in that limbo between fashionable and functional. They carry a purpose but elements of design can make all the difference.

Artisanal samurai drama

Keisuke Miyake literally invokes some fighting spirit in his designs. As a second-generation kyo-ningyo (traditional Kyoto doll) craftsman, his unusual pieces are made using techniques employed to create yoroikabuto — the miniature sets of samurai armor and helmet that Japanese families often display in their homes to celebrate Children’s Day on May 5. These skills are also the same as those used by Japanese medieval craftsmen to make genuine battle armor.

The Miyake series of leather business totes, handbags, clutches, pencil cases and small pouches are covered with colored aluminum plates in place of the heavier steel used for armor, and they are hand-stitched together with traditional odoshi woven braiding.

Visually, the effect is similar to that of the protective sleeves worn beneath the shoulder plates of samurai armor, and available in Japan’s characteristic colors of black, crimson and black-and-white checks, it makes a bold statement. Miyake, however, tempers that drama in his use of simple and clean bag shapes.

These are pricey items, ranging from ¥10,584 for a small pouch to ¥172,800 for a business tote, but they are clearly popular, since most of the lineup has already sold out. Check the website for more information on upcoming new designs.


From cars to handbags

Yoccatta by SD-Works is waging its war against environmental waste with a range of goods made from car safety air bags.

The brainchild of designer Takuya Ito, Yoccatta was conceived when he discovered that Japan not only had the third largest car ownership in the world in 2013, but of those cars less than 10 percent of the air bags were actually be used. Since air bags are always removed and thrown away when vehicles are scrapped, they seemed to be an ideal recyclable material.

Ito already designs unisex leather bags for his own brand, Magnu, and his creations for Yoccatta are of equal high quality. Lined and trimmed, they are indistinguishable from designer holdalls, totes and handbags, though the seat-belt handles do give a clue to the bags’ origin.

Subtle details — such as stitched decorative circles on outer panels and straps, patterned prints on pockets and additional short leather handles — also add a touch of class to the brand.

Yoccatta bags range from ¥9,504 for a small cross-body pouch to ¥19,440 for a tall tote and have a release date set for the end of August.


On the ball court

Fukunary Garment Factory began its collaboration with sports-goods manufacturer Mikasa in 2014, when it used blue, white and yellow volleyball synthetic leather to make messenger bags and totes. Since then, it has added roll-top backpacks and accessories, plus other textiles — classic orange basketball rubber and soccer-ball vinyl — to the mix.

For spring, it has upped the ante with a more complex four-way bag designed to be used as a backpack, tote, cross-body and shoulder bag. In keeping with its previous urban looks, the basic shape is simple, but it has short handles that can be hidden on the inside, long handles to carry it on the shoulder, a detachable strap for wearing it across the body and backpack straps that can be tightened flat to keep them well out of the way.

The design is available in plain basketball orange, and volleyball blue, yellow or white, but it is the black or white soccer-ball version that is the most interesting. Like actual soccer balls, it comes in a patchwork design of pentagons.

The volleyball and basketball four-ways are priced at ¥32,400 and the soccer-ball version is ¥35,640.


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