Handbags with organizational compartments aren’t known for being chic. They’re more the realm of busy soccer moms than fashion influencers. But with the ongoing popularity of athleisure and new social-media savvy lines such as Dagne Dover and Caraa, convenience and functionality are a bigger part of the pitch to professional women on the go.
Sales of traditional handbag makers in the U.S. were down 7 percent during the 12 months ending May 2019, says Beth Goldstein, analyst for fashion and handbags at research firm NPD. One bright spot in the industry — valued at $8.6 billion in the U.S. — are bags with innovative organizational techniques.
“The meaning of luxury is starting to change,” Goldstein says. “Consumers are responding to these brands that are solving problems. They are seeing a lot of value in that.”
For instance, New York-based Lo & Sons specializes in a two-in-one tote called the Seville ($398), which has an interchangeable shell design to transform it into a travel bag.
The Jemma handbag line, launched in 2015, features an model called the Emma ($395) with pockets dedicated to every item you can think to put in a purse — a tablet sleeve, a phone pocket, a lipstick holder, a credit-card pocket — plus a nifty central zipper pocket that can be detached and worn as a smaller crossbody bag.
There’s also a back pocket that can be unzipped at the bottom, creating a sleeve that slides onto the handle of a carry-on suitcase, allowing you to secure it while rushing through a busy airport. Joanna Lau, founder and chief executive officer of Jemma, created the purse after striking out in her search for a handbag she could carry to work as a trader on Wall Street.
“Many from established brands don’t include these pockets,” she says. “People are constantly digging for things that go missing in their bags.”
Professional organizer Kacy Paide recommends totes from the Montreal-based brand Want Les Essentiels for its sleek lines and luxury look. The company’s Lesage Leather Work Tote ($895) has three distinct sections and multiple interior pockets with magnetic closures, which are easier to use than sliding zippers.
The Knomo London Derby Leather Tote ($349) also has a cleverly concealed top compartment for such items as your phone, wallet, and keys that you want accessible but hidden, while the large interior pocket can fit a water bottle and a pair of shoes.
For Laura Cattano, a professional organizer in New York who has worked with Lena Dunham and Misty Copeland, the key to avoiding handbag clutter is going through your purse at the end of each day. But she recognizes that many people don’t have the time or inclination to do so. She turns to British label Anya Hindmarch, whose bags have small interior slots for credit cards and cash.
“Her whole angle is about organization,” Cattano says of the designer. “I have some of her smaller bags. It has a little wallet inside the bag.”
The purses don’t sacrifice style for functionality. For instance, Hindmarch’s Postbox Bag ($1,550) has a handmade vintage-gold frame and a shoulder strap that you can personalize.
Melanie Charlton, a founder of closet design firm Clos-ette who has worked with Beyoncé and Jay Z, says some of her clients are using Prada’s new pouches to store items in their purses. The brand’s Nylon Pouch ($480) is made with Saffiano leather and offers two zippered internal compartments, along with two external pockets.
Multiple compartments are also ideal for bags that need to transition between the office and the gym. Carmen Chen Wu, founder of handbag line Caraa, recognized the need for a combination purse and gym bag that looks more professional than a Nike duffel.
She designed the Caraa Studio Tote ($225), which has adjustable and removable backpack straps to transform the bag and distribute the weight between shoulders. And it has a waterproof built-in shoe compartment that keeps smelly sneakers and clothes separate from other items. “Our lining is antimicrobial, so it won’t mold and will never start smelling,” Wu says. “The interiors of our bags are all wipeable.”
For a further multitasking option, the Senreve Voya Tote ($895) has eight interior pockets and a roomy main compartment that’s big enough to fit a spare pair of flats or a change of clothes. A suede, removable laptop sleeve gives you two bags in one, while the Italian scratch-resistant leather can handle a haul from the office to the gym to happy hour.
Avoid the tote trend that’s “just a bucket,” Cattano says. “Sections are good,” she says. “If you just throw everything in the bag, then you don’t know where anything is.”