UK: Vital signs - Accessories to murder.

UK: Vital signs - Accessories to murder. - There it lies, on the desk, sadder than sad, naffer than naff ... and maroon. A traditional briefcase - sort of - but rendered in that ineffably early '80s way, with the lowest-grade 'real leather', glazed in a

by PETER YORK, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing directorof consultants SRU, e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

There it lies, on the desk, sadder than sad, naffer than naff ... and maroon. A traditional briefcase - sort of - but rendered in that ineffably early '80s way, with the lowest-grade 'real leather', glazed in a fierce methylated spirits maroon corrected-grain that ages badly. The locks are a kind of lacquered tinny alloy and they've got combinations. Combinations!

Who'd want to open this case? What would you get? A collection of blue files with a lot of closely written notes in Biro, a wiring diagram, a copy of Maxim and a tube of Anusol. This is the case for Rigsby in Rising Damp.

You see these cases everywhere, on respectable men and women who've thought hard about the rest - OK suit, decent haircut, almost passable shoes.

But then this thing summons them back to the GEGB costing department 1982.

Accessories are difficult. They're meant to update, focus or individualise a get-up, so taste has to be exercised. Or they're functional, with no aesthetic issues attached, no thought required. But they all make a statement, and it can be deeply off-message.

Take watches. Why do primeval muggers go for Rolexes? Because they're large lumps of money conveniently situated at the wrist. It's easier than robbing a bank. But do you want an ingot on your wrist? If you do, you're still speaking the symbolic language of four camels and three fat oxen.

If you're rich, you should know better. If you're not rich, where did you get the money from?

A level or so down, these mixed-material Euro watches - a lot of steel with a bit of bright gold - now look very '80s duty-free catalogue. They're the stylistic analogues of those City buildings with big atria clad in liver-coloured granite. To set them off nicely, you should be carrying a brick-sized mobile. Watches are simpler, cheaper, more self-effacing now, with a range of looks from rubbery high-tech new digital to Monte Carlo 1954 antique. (I prefer the Timex Indiglo, £24.) A big watch can be a transfixing statement but it certainly doesn't say team player. It's best left to people in the leisure trade.

Cufflinks are a problem too. You often get them as presents but you're better off buying them yourself. If in doubt, those cheap silk knot affairs are always better than something amusing like 'Hot' and 'Cold' or 'pounds ' and 'dollars ' that Caroline bought Tim-nice-but-dim in a loving moment, or something OTT in the European mode - more silver and gold, but real - that says you're developing a taste for cigars, Edwardian houses in Bucks and blue shirts with white collars. That kind of thing's not just counter-cultural in modern de-layered businesses, it also says you're another generation, that you've never been to Clerkenwell or Canal Street, let alone Hoxton.

Gizmos present different issues. Laptop design is neutral, global, culture-free. Newest and smallest is best. You admire the sliver of the screen, the nerds know the rest. The subtle judgments here aren't about the design of individual objects but whether one should have it at all, or use it conspicuously, and just how large a portfolio of toys you should have before you start looking silly. A sackful of gizmos is today's version of Mr Slide Rule At The Ready.

Mobile phones have gone from £2,000 statements to something mid-teens use to pass the time in shopping precincts. Their design should be as understated as possible. A mobile that's 'coming at ya' says you've lost the plot. There's room for them to be tolerably stylish, reasonably small and to have new functions and connections. But that's about it.

All technology has to find its own level. You work out what you really need, what's simplest and most cost-effective. The stuff is commonplace so you stow it in something neutral and use it with minimal display.

Back to cases. The game's completely changed from the old bi-modal choice - the lidded box or the academic/civil service top-opening number. The box is OK if you're an investment banker or similar and it's the real thing - proper tan leather, proper stitching, proper brass, no combinations - from somewhere like Tanner Krolle. Which means the thick end of £1,000.

Otherwise it's anarchy - new forms, new materials, new uses. But everything in black nylon isn't OK. Somebody's going to come up with the definitive must-have laptop outer, just like Mulberry's joint venture to produce smart leather outers for Psion. In the meantime, be very careful about rucksacks and shoulder bags.

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