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Throw Out That Briefcase—Urban Sherpas Back into a New Look with Pricey Designer Knapsacks

updated 10/06/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/06/1986 01:00AM

All it takes is a cheap nylon backpack to give book-toting college kids that hip outdoorsy look. But out in the real world, yuppies haven't felt their images to be much enhanced by such an accessible accessory—until now. Thanks to designers such as Fendi and Hermès, there's a new item on every yupscale wish list: the designer backpack. "They're so easy to carry and not so stuffy as a briefcase," says New York-Beverly Hills retailer Lina Lee to explain the sacks' brisk sale. "And they double as an overnight bag."

Made from brocade, pebble-pressed leather and even ostrich skin, the fancy totes come with a status-symbol price tag. A bright orange leather pack by Omega costs $88; Yien sells a fringed denim pack for $126, and Hermès will soon sell a brown calfskin pack for about $2,200. Sales to practical Midwesterners still haven't taken off, but in L.A. and New York, young women and even a lot of men won't leave home without their sacks. It doesn't hurt profits that such trend-setters as Andy Warhol and Daryl Hannah favor the hitchhike look too.

High-style backpacks first appeared in Paris a few years ago, out of necessity as much as fashion. "Models like packs because their huge portfolios fit in them," says French stylist Marie-Anne Oudejans. "For people on the go, they are like portable offices." But here in the U.S.A. snob appeal sells soupedup sacks as much as practicality. Observes Lenny Fagelman, buyer for the luggage department of Fred Segal's in West Hollywood: "I've never seen one worn as it's supposed to be worn. Customers sling them over one shoulder, slinky-style, or hold them in one hand, macho-style." As for why packers pay so much, Fagelman concludes, "When somebody buys a $300 pack, the reason is 100 percent fashion."

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