Those old enough to remember the school satchel, prior to the nylon bag printed with the school name becoming almost ubiquitous, will recall that it came in two colours: brown (well, more or less oxblood) or black.
Address 15 Shorts Gardens, Covent Garden, WC1
Number of floors Two
Opened February 2013
The satchel was generally accompanied by a navy or grey duffle coat in winter or a light mac in summer.
As such, back in the day - the 1970s and before, this was standard fare for those heading off to their seats of learning. Yet by the late 1970s it had already acquired a semi-retro feel.
This might explain why the satchel has seen a resurgence and is now a mild must-have item. For proof of this look no further than Covent Garden, where The Cambridge Satchel Company has opened a store in the area’s northern reaches, just along from Seven Dials, following the success of a pop-up in December.
As the name might suggest, this store sells nothing but satchels, give or take a few boarding school-style trunks, and if you want an old-school satchel
01 - VISUAL MERCHANDISING
This is a store where, for the most part, the props are the stock and this can come as little surprise, given the multiple variations of the core product. That said, what really stands out as a prop is an old-style ‘sit-up-and-beg’ bike fixed to the wall just behind the cash desk, which is festooned with red LED lights. This makes sense as the scholar of old would probably have travelled to school on a bike like this - albeit without the red lights. It’s about tapping into the sense of heritage that pervades everything in this shop. In keeping with this, the tongue-and-groove wooden walls have satchel-sized shelves painted a neutral colour to allow the stock to shine out. It’s all about keeping things simple, harking back to a less complicated time.
02 - CONCEPT
The concept is as simple as the VM and the product. The interior is in fact modelled on the founder’s kitchen and the materials reflect this throughout.
Things do change towards the rear where elements such as the embossing machine and a staircase to the Bloggers Lounge add a sense of difference.
The latter allows those who will write things about the space to do so as well as giving them the chance to test-drive a satchel from the Lending Library.
03 - SERVICE
On the day of visiting, a Sunday, the store was very busy indeed and a brisk trade was being done. Owing to the size and simplicity of the offer, keeping the store looking shipshape is clearly not that much of an undertaking and the staff were therefore free to concentrate on helping customers decide which colour would best suit their busy lifestyles. And they seemed to be doing so, as well as finding time to head off to the embossing machine to add the stamp of personality to shoppers’ purchases.
04 - PRODUCT
So you’d like a transparent satchel? Or would you prefer a papal purple or a postbox red version? There is something of the technicolour Model T Ford about this - you can have any colour, as long as it’s a two-strap satchel. Prices are pretty monochromatic, ranging from a little under £100 to a little over and for those in need of something much bigger, there are the boarding school-style packing trunks for around £150. This is close to being a single style shop, which puts it in the realms of the ultra-niche.
05 - COMPETITION
If you like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing that you’ll like. Viewed this way, The Cambridge Satchel Company has no competition. There might be a few other stores in the Covent Garden area selling the odd satchel, but in terms of a destination for satchel buyers, this one rules supreme.
The problems start when you consider the fact that a satchel is a bag and when looked at in this light, there are many, many options for the shopper in
the immediate area. A difficult sell therefore if you really don’t like satchels and a supremely easy one if you do.
06 - VERDICT: THE PROSPECTS ARE GOOD
The Cambridge Satchel Company is a cheerful and relatively affordable proposition for those who want to hark back to the days when the trek to the bus stop wearing a pair of shorts on a frosty morning was a chilly reality. Even for those who weren’t around in such times, this is a proposition that the DM-booted, floral shirt/blouse brigade should find to its taste. And everything that could be done to summon up that nostalgic sense, with a twist, has been done. The mild issue is what might happen should satchels suddenly become not as popular as they once were.