For a time in the mid-1990s legions of women began carrying their necessities in small, stylish backpacks instead of purses. The accessory proved to be a popular and practical alternative to the handbag.
The origin of the backpack as a fashion item is traced to Italian designer Miuccia Prada (c. 1949–), who had inherited her family's successful Milan luggage firm, Fratelli Prada. With her new husband, purse manufacturer Patrizio Bertelli (1946–), Prada began introducing stylish new items, including a practical little backpack made from the nylon material that her grandfather's company had long used to cover its newly made steamer trunks, large box-like suitcases used for travel by ship in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The backpacks, with a small, triangular silver "Prada" logo attached, began selling in department stores in the early 1980s, though the company was virtually unknown in the North American market at the time. A ready-to-wear line was launched in 1989, and Miuccia Prada's elegant designs soon caught on with young, fashion-conscious women. The Prada backpack became a highly coveted status symbol around 1994, and part of its appeal was the hard-to-spot little silver triangle. They retailed for about four hundred dollars, and the company quickly launched a line of them in a multitude of sizes, colors, and fabrics. From there knockoffs, or reproductions, of the Prada item quickly caught on with mobile urban women, and by 1995 countless variations in leather, vinyl, and an array of other fabrics and colors were accounting for about 60 percent of the purse market in some retail sectors. Considered more practical than a purse, as well as safer on city streets, the backpack gained popularity for its practical qualities as well as its stylishness.
Hessen, Wendy. "Backpacks: The New Basic." WWD (January 3, 1995): S14.
Meadus, Amanda, and Wendy Hessen. "Backpacks Fuel Mass Market." WWD (September 12, 1994): 6.
Rotenier, Nancy. "Antistatus Backpacks, $450 a Copy." Forbes (June 19, 1995): 118.