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Fashion

His Valentine’s: Designer revisits the doctor’s man bag

A man smokes a luxury Bongani (left) and leather accessories made by Rift Valley Leather company in Nairobi. PHOTOS | COURTESY
A man smokes a luxury Bongani (left) and leather accessories made by Rift Valley Leather company in Nairobi. PHOTOS | COURTESY 

The ‘daktari bag’ has become an iconic fashion accessory for men.

Robert Topping, the lead designer at Rift Valley Leather in Nairobi, says the bag is based on a vintage luggage design originating in the Victorian era, with a particular style of metal frame (Vanderbilt frame) and associated nostalgically with the bygone days of steam voyage by rail and sea.

‘‘The genuine antique bags are much sought-after as collectors’ pieces,’’ he says.

Mr Topping says their ‘daktari bag’ is made out of calf skin and it is an updated, luxurious interpretation to fit the modern man.

“Its frame gives it structure and when open, it remains open allowing easy packing. This classic style has endured and is nowadays referred to as a Gladstone bag or Doctor Bag, hence ‘daktari”, he says. It has a padded main compartment for safety with pockets for phones, flash drives and small items.

'Stands out'

“I believe this is the best gift to give your man this Valentine’s. It’s very classic and will definitely make any man stand out in a crowd,” Mr Topping says.

He adds that if you are thinking of gifting a bag, first consider the man’s personality.

Leather bags made by Rift Valley Leather company in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY

Leather bags made by Rift Valley Leather company in Nairobi. PHOTO | COURTESY

Is he into classics and the basics or on the artistic side? Certain bags also fit particular occasions, while a rucksack or messenger may be ideal as an everyday bag, they might look frivolous in more formal settings.

For a personal touch, engrave a message on it.

The company imports the metal hardware from Italy and buys the hide from Kenyan and Uganda tanneries. It is then cut, assembled and sewn at the Nairobi factory.

“The husbandry techniques in Uganda differ from Kenya. As a result, there is more premium calf skin available in Uganda. Calf skin differs from tanned cow hide as the hair is shorter, lending a velvety feel, and a more robust quality,” Mr Topping says.

They also make bags from Nile perch and salmon skin. Fish-skin bags have a rough-hewn surface of coarse scales which give a certain wild and primal charm.

Nile perch skin is much thicker than other types of fish leather such as salmon.

The ‘daktari bag’ collection is being featured in trade shows in New York and Las Vegas.

With over 40 years experience in designing leather bags, I ask Mr Topping the must-have bags and leather accessories that a man should have.

‘‘A briefcase, wallet, belt and travel bags designed to a modern theme,’’ says the bag designer who has sold his products to star-studded customers including Sophia Loren, an Italian actress, Twiggy, a British model of the 1960s and 70s, Yul Brynner, an American film star and various Scandinavian royalty.

“The ‘daktari bag’ is the most expensive and it costs Sh98,000.  Each bag takes two days to make and by five artisans,” Mr Topping says.

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