While on holiday I wandered into an upmarket bag shop that stocked ladies' bags made by Radley. I was only looking, by the way. But I love bags, and can't resist seeing what the latest bags are like.
And I very much dig Radley. They really do seem to know what is needed for a leather bag that you will use all the time and grow to appreciate. Some of their colours are a bit odd, but their black bags are a very safe bet. These are well-made, well-designed bags that have a quality look, free of silly bling. I personally do not like their cute 'little dog' logo, but a lot of their bags keep the dog subtly out of sight. Much of their range is in the £100 to £150 price bracket - definitely not for cheapskates then. But still much more affordable than something from, say, Mulberry. I remember once discussing Radleys with a lady who said she collected them. I really think she had at least ten. That's not something you can do with bags by Prada, or any of the big-ticket fashion houses, not unless you are so well-off that buying a new bag can't mean anything much.
This is my Radley:
I bought it at House of Fraser in Chichester on 20 August 2009, so I've owned it for nearly three years. I remember that purchase very well. It was a sunny afternoon, and I got to the store late in the afternoon. I'd examined the bag on a different occasion not long before, but I still spent fifteen minutes considering it carefully before I made up my mind. It cost £150. After purchase, I wandered into Chichester Cathedral opposite and sat down. A service was about to begin. The sunshine streamed through the windows, accentuating the soft shadows. There was a restful, dignified, but involving atmosphere that felt personal. Words were spoken that brought comfort and cheer and hope. Then prayers were said and a hymn sung. It should have been pleasant and soothing and uplifting, and I suppose it was, but the moving hymn music made me think only of poor Dad, who had died less than three months before, and after a while I had to leave because I was on the verge of tears. Such was the birth of my relationship with this bag! Recovered, I stopped off on the drive home and walked up to Halnaker Windmill, wearing my new Radley bag of course:
Another - much more happy - reason to remember the purchase day!
Back to the bag. It's made of softish leather but stitched together to give it a proper shape and avoid floppiness. It has a long strap, so you wear it across-body and can have both hands free. It's perfect for town and country wear, goes with any outfit except very dressy stuff (for which I use the Prada bag), and the big flap that comes forward over the entire bag has a magnetic fastener, and is ideal for keeping the weather and light fingers out.
You can see that the blackness of the front side (really the flap) is now disappearing with exposure to the elements. Underneath it's the original deep black leather.
This is a very practical bag, with three main compartments, and inside, well under cover, two large zip-up pockets and two smaller open pockets. The inside fabric is light-coloured cotton, so that you can find stuff in poor light. I can accommodate the following with ease:
Passport and NHS Medical Card
Spare battery for the Leica
The killer feature, which I've not seen replicated on any more recent Radley bag - or any other quality make, come to that - is that big outside pocket, which in my top two photos has the handle of my comb sticking out of it. This is so useful. Without opening the bag, I can grab a tissue or the comb, and it's an ideal place to put a shopping list, or a used car parking ticket, or to keep a map handy.
Important occasions aside, this has been my daily bag for almost three years. And naturally there has been some wear and tear. And I had been wondering for some time whether I should get a new bag to replace it, on the principle that a girl needs to look smart. Against this, I had become very, very attached to my Radley, my so-useful companion.
And then, to calm my doubts and confirm my huge appreciation for this bag, the lady in the holiday bag shop said to me as I entered, 'Ah, a Radley, and a well used and well loved one, too!' That was a risky thing to say to someone like me. Whatever nice things might be on sale, having said that she had bonded me even more securely to my bag.
It was All Right then, to have a well-worn item like this! So be it. The marks of wear and tear would henceforth be displayed with pride.
It was just as well, of course. I couldn't afford another Radley just now, and shouldn't even be looking. It crossed my mind also that well-used bags acquired a certain personality. They said something strong about their owner. I wasn't quite sure what my bag said about me, but according to that lady it must be something very positive!