Last year, I traveled a lot for my job, zipping from Milan to New York to Paris to San Francisco. On each of my trips, my travel companion of choice was a quilted nylon tote that was incredibly lightweight, full of pockets, and equipped with extra straps so I could carry it in different ways. It was also—and this is important—very chic, complementing my travel outfit of choice, which consists of black Lululemon leggings and a comfy black sweatshirt.
The bag is called the Metro Tote, and it’s made by MZ Wallace, an accessories brand with a cult following, launched by Monica Zwirner and Lucy Wallace Eustice, a pair of New Yorker designers in 2000. As I city-hopped last year, I discovered that the brand had a much wider following than I previously imagined: I spotted people with MZ Wallace bags in every airport I passed through, from LaGuardia to Charles de Gaulle.
MZ Wallace’s popularity with jet-setters is remarkable for a company that, unlike Away or Roam, isn’t even marketed as a luggage brand. But today, Zwirner and Eustice are focused on adding travel-friendly features to bags across their lines. The latest tote to get an upgrade is the Metro, one of their most popular and well-known bags. The new Metro Deluxe, as its called, contains a luggage sleeve that allows the bag to slip over a rollaboard handle and sit neatly on a suitcase, a detachable cross-body strap, and additional pockets—features that I would have found incredibly useful in my travels last year.
Zwirner and Eustice cofounded the brand two decades ago because they saw a gap in the market for bags designed to meet the needs of busy women. “We weren’t designing bags for travel in the classic sense of the word,” Zwirner says. “But what we observed was that many women—especially in cities like New York—were traveling through the city throughout the day.”
At the time, the cofounders found that there was a bifurcation in the bag industry between bags that were pragmatic and bags that were luxurious and beautiful. The practical one tended to look very rudimentary and unfashionable, often clashing with women’s outfits. Zwirner and Eustice wanted to create something that bridged the gap between form and function.
They decided to work with nylon, rather than leather, because it is ultra lightweight, meaning that only things weighing the bag down would be its contents. And while most bags made from synthetic materials can sometimes look and feel cheap, the founders took a page from luxury brands like Longchamp and Prada, which have created elevated nylon bags. They picked the highest quality fabric on the market, then added trims made from Italian leather that would give them a high-end feel.
Their initial collection consisted of a selection of totes and satchels that could seamlessly transition from office to gym class and parent-teacher meetings. Over the past 20 years, they have stuck to their original design principles, while expanding the product range to include more silhouettes and designs. With prices starting at about $200, the bags were meant to sit neatly in the middle of the market, as an affordable luxury.
Besides the lightweight materials, the cofounders also focused on making their carryalls easy to convert from one format to another. Most of their bags come with a cross-body strap, so they can be carried as a satchel or a messenger bag. And there is often a duel-purpose, removable pouch that can be used to hold smaller items or even the bag itself, which can be crushed and rolled into a small packet—another plus for travelers.
From the start, the totes were a hit among the very women Zwirner and Eustice were designing for: Women in big cities like New York, San Francisco and Boston, who commuted throughout the day. But it didn’t take long for the founders to realize that these women also traveled a lot and were bringing their MZ Wallace bags along. This spurred them to begin designing specifically for travelers. “Women would come into our store and give us feedback,” says Eustice. “They would dump the contents of their bags on a table, and explain they needed specific pockets for their phone, or extra straps, or a luggage sleeve.”
These days, MZ Wallace incorporates a luggage sleeve in many of its bags, including its popular Jim bag and Jimmy (which many people carry to the gym as well as overnight trips). They’ve also added it to Crosby line bags, which have contrasting metal finishes that give them a fashionable twist. The luggage sleeve is subtle and can be used as a pocket when it is not strapped onto a wheeled suitcase. The founders say that this small tweak has led to the bags becoming even more widely adopted among travelers. “The luggage sleeve was a game changer for us,” says Eustice. “Customers could suddenly bring their bags to work everyday, but then also stick them on their luggage when they were traveling somewhere else.”
The founders believe that the new Deluxe Metro Tote, which comes in a medium ($275) and large size ($285), will be another game-changing bag for them. “The Metro Tote has become our iconic bag,” says Zwirner. “It goes with everything, like Chuck Taylor sneakers or a Burberry trench coat. We’ve just made it easier to carry with you on adventures further afield.”
Need more luggage inspiration? Check out some of our other handpicked suggestions:
- The best work-life bags for every style and budget
- Seven perfect suitcases—that aren’t made by Away
- How to pack for any trip in just a carry-on suitcase
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