It’s weird, I’ll admit, to be rhapsodizing about a 7.8″ by 4.5″ by 3.5″ zippered nylon pouch with a leather wrist band. But rhapsodize I must. Prada makes it. I bought it several years ago, in black, for one particular and pedestrian purpose: To hold my travel necessities on long flights. It felt extravagant—should I really spend some $400 for a little bag that will live mostly tucked out of sight inside my carry-on and whose sole purpose will be to hold my eye mask, sleeping pills, lip gloss, hand cream, toothbrush, and toothpaste? Probably not. But swanning down the airplane aisle to the bathroom (so much as one can swan anywhere after 8 or 12 airborne hours) with it in hand would, I was certain, give me a bit of a psychic lift. And it did. As excellent design always does.

Yes, I consider the Prada pouch one of the best-designed accessories I’ve ever owned—if not the best. It does for my immediate, personal eco-system what an Eames chair would do for my living room (maybe one day), or a Porsche would do for my garage (I’ll keep on dreaming). Looking at it, holding it, using it gives me both aesthetic and tactile pleasure and a little geeky thrill about how well it functions and how nicely all its composite elements come together. As the late Steve Jobs once said, design has nothing to do with decoration but is “the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive…layers of the product.”

Exactly. That little nylon pouch has an admirable “soul.”

First, there’s the nylon out of which it is mostly (but not entirely) made. If you’ve ever owned a Prada nylon anything, you know the stuff is virtually indestructible—a true “investment” material. But the softness and near weightlessness of this particular unstructured pouch–there is no internal “skeleton” propping it up, and it can be crushed, folded, rolled up, whatever—makes you appreciate it more. The nylon is smooth and pleasant to the touch; it is neither mat nor shiny, but with a subtle and elegant in-between sheen. It molds delicately to your hand when you pick it up, or to your lap if you’re out to dinner with it and have it on your knees under the table napkin. It’s like an unassuming little pet you can take anywhere. (Spoiler alert: Yes, I’ve upgraded my pouch. It no longer lives only in my carry-on; pre-pandemic, I even took it to a black-tie event.)

Second, the dimensions. This pouch only looks small. Some sites describe it as a “round-edged cosmetic pouch,” but it’s much more versatile and can hold significantly more than that description implies. (Sure, you can use it just for your make-up–the way you can use your Porsche just to pick up the groceries–but why?) For this pouch is, in fact, the Mary-Poppins-carpet-bag of pouches. No, it will not accommodate a hat stand, mirror, plant, or lamp, as Poppins’s bag magically did. But in addition to the airplane necessities I listed above, I can (and often do) slip in: a pair of socks (for sleeping in), my iPhone 12 Max Pro, ear pods, an external phone battery, a charger (just in case), several pens, my credit cards (I don’t travel with a full wallet), my business cards, sunglasses, and a small flexible-cover Moleskin notebook (without which I never go anywhere). And these days, of course, a mask or two. And still the zipper, for the most part, closes. The pouch has become my all-around go-to accessory and often a handbag substitute—for both day and night. (The other small Prada pouches/evening bags, I must point out, some with a short shoulder strap, cannot pull off this trick. They’ll fit a phone, a lipstick, maybe a room key. Chic, but different and infinitely less adaptable animals.)

Third, the wrist strap. Brilliant. It allows you to be hands-free if you want. Sling the bag over your wrist and you can take photos; write in a notebook; get on and off an expedition tender; hold a drink and shake hands at the same time (however did I manage cocktail parties before the pouch?); or just walk down a busy street secure in the knowledge that you won’t accidentally drop your bag or have it snatched out of your hand.

What else is great about the wrist strap? It is detachable. Because sometimes you want it, sometimes you don’t, and what a pleasure to know that someone has had the foresight to figure that out. It is also adjustable for length. And it’s made not out of nylon, but leather—an effective touch of luxe, a nice tactile contrast to the nylon, and a subtle visual design element, echoing the leather on the zipper tab and pull, and around the edges of the Prada logo plaque attached on the outside.

Moving to the inside. For durability, the inside of the pouch is lined, but with a different kind of nylon, textured, for more contrast. And like a proper little handbag (which I hope I’ve by now made clear that this “cosmetics pouch” most definitely also is), it has a zippered inside pocket on one side. Which is also brilliant: a super safe place to tuck in cash or credit cards, for example. (How many times have I lost a loose credit card because it had glommed on, smooth surface to smooth surface, to my cell phone as I took it out, then dropped to the floor? Many times.) Oh, yes, and the inside zipper tab and pull are also leather, and there’s another, smaller Prada logo plaque on the zippered pocket, just metal this time, and rectangular in shape rather than triangular, like the outside plaque. Again, finely calibrated touches of luxury to make using the pouch something of a sensory experience and worth every penny—there, I’ve said it—of the $440 it now retails for.

Mine, I just want to add, is 7 years old now and looks almost as good as it did the day I bought it. While I didn’t travel with it during the last 15 months–because I didn’t travel, period–I walked with it, met vaccinated friends with it, took it to the grocery store, or out for drives. As we return to the office, I’ll keep all my personal items in it and just toss it into a larger work bag which will hold my laptop, files, magazines, and so on. (I’ve got my commute all planned out.) For now, at least, those workhorses of my pre-pandemic life, my actual handbags, can continue their well-deserved rest. Which might last quite a bit longer still. My pouch, as I mentioned, is black. I believe that black was the only color available back when I bought it. (At least I don’t recall agonizing about color choices). That’s no longer seems to be the case—it’s now available in cocoa, navy, camouflage green, burgundy, and a few others. I don’t think my next pouch—and there will be a next one, or even two—will be spending much time at all inside my carry-on.

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