Friday 29th January

| BY Sarah Mower

RCA Grad Isabel De La Roche is one of Sarah Mower’s Six Designers to Watch

After years of looking at bag trends ad infinitum – the top-handled ones, the cross-bodies, the envelopes, the totes, the baskets, the micro-bags – you know something different when you see it. That was the sensation of seeing what Isabel De La Roche was developing in the Royal College of Art studios in the final months of her MA, just before lockdown. Somehow, her solution for carrying things – a pair of pocket-like, deep chestnut leather bags, worn suspended from a rounded strap that snaked sensuously around the neck – generated a sense of craft, sleekness and grown-up sophistication.

Most of all, it hit me that this design, and its variants, possess the magic potential of fulfilling an actual need – and is not just about being decorative or archly conceptual. Since Covid’s arrival, it’s an idea that seems even more relevant to how we’re living – a pair of hands-free modern-day panniers that would be really useful for trips to the supermarket, and so easy to dip into for your wallet, mask, hand sanitiser, keys and all that jazz.

De La Roche explained how her research started with looking at 18th century Regency ladies’ reticule bags – the items identified as the first handbags in western fashion history, and which men of course ridiculed. Then she delved further back to discover that, since medieval times, women had carried personal be- longings in pockets tied to a belt. Fast forward, and she had evolved a 21st-century equivalent: leather pocket bags ergonomically draped on the body and suspended by curvilinear, tubular straps, a really complex feat of craft and engineering. “My bags converse with the body,” De La Roche says. They also converse with fashion – because you could easily envisage wearing her designs over a tailored jacket, a trench coat, dress, sweater or T-shirt. That adds versatility to the list of boxes she has ticked for women who want their accessories to be useful yet beautiful.

Different thinkers who are inspired to reinvent generic objects don’t come along very often in fashion. De La Roche is one of them.

Photography courtesy of Isabel De La Roche. Taken from Issue 65 of 10 Magazine – FAMILY, FOREVER, LOVE – available to purchase here.