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June 15, 2009

Waterfield Personal Muzetto Man Bag

Confession: I have carried various man-bags for many years but not so much lately. In part because of the occasional snickers I have gotten from good ol' boys in the parochial city I live in and the rest due to the highly changeable weather here that usually dictates that I carry a jacket providing all the cargo capacity I need. But there are many situations that are well served by a bag and I dislike carrying bulky stuff in my pockets. A new day job has me packing my lunch every day, so if I am going to carry a bag anyway it might as well be a cool one. The search was on!

I started with a vertical, all-nylon unisex bag from InCase that I bought several years ago. The futuristic, silver-grey material now looked way too big-city for me and worse, it was festooned with gimmicky little cellphone pockets, zippers, and secret compartments. The slick nylon had not aged well either. Only natural materials gain character with use, while synthetics just get shabby. Pass.

Next I found a faded tan canvas vertical at The Gap. One large compartment, two small pockets inside, and zero structure. Everything just dropped to the bottom and bulged out. It had a big brass buckle, distressed leather edges on the flap -- definitely masculine. It was cheap and I needed something to haul my daily stuff, so I bought it. I quickly found out that it was anything but weather-proof, and that the plastic clip buckles that hold down the flap are easily broken since they are attached to the bottom and take a beating every time you set the bag down.

When I saw that WaterField Designs had a new line of man-bags coming out, I requested a review sample of the smallest one, the Personal Muzetto ($179), measuring 10.5 x 8.5 x 1.5 inches. I have always gravitated to the most compact case I can find that will carry what I need. This works both ways, forcing me to pare down to the essentials and not pack loads of unnecessary stuff -- that's what women's purses are for. (Just kidding.)

Like everything I've seen from WaterField, the Muzetto is a beautiful piece of American-made craft. The attention to detail is exemplary with nary a flaw in stitching or materials. The rich brown leather reminds me of a well-loved baseball glove. The interior is the same taxi-yellow weave material they use in their larger bags, the light color making it much easier to find things inside. The inside of the flap is of a textured, tough nylon and can be ordered in a variety of cool outdoorsy colors, but I chose basic black.

So what makes a man-bag not a purse? Design. The squared off edges, vertical orientation, and ballistic nylon shoulder strap make a clear statement that this is not a feminine accessory. I asked several women in my life their opinion and it was unanimous: none of them would think of carrying a Muzetto. It has a slightly military vibe to it, purposeful and unadorned if you go with a Black or Copper colored inside flap and somewhat less so if you opt for Green, Flame, Pine, or Pearl.

It was raining the first day I used the Muzetto, but rather than stress about the leather getting water damaged I just threw my stuff in the bag and headed out for my day. A real man-bag should not have to be pampered. I toss mine around and don't worry about it at all, and after two weeks of this I can report that It looks better than new. The leather is so well-oiled that it repairs itself. Most minor scratches and scuffs just disappear, and those few that don't just add more tough-guy character. Splashes and rain do not stain it and the cargo inside stays dry. Even in a hard wind, the heavy flap design stays down without any need for a fiddly fastener or card-killing magnet. The adjustable shoulder strap has a removable matching leather shoulder pad back with rubber. It stays put on your shoulder when you swing the bag around to use it.

The Personal Muzetto has a four pocket layout that I use thus, back to front:

• Rear pocket for folded papers, 3x5 note cards, and receipts.

• Main interior chamber holds a WaterFIeld Small Gear Pouch ($19) to organize my cables, adapters, a Griffin PowerDuo iPhone charger ($39.99), Leatherman Micra multi-tool, guitar capos, Hearos ear plugs, and some personal hygiene items. The remaining half of the main chamber carries my lunch.

• The smaller zippered pocket within the main chamber holds my WaterField Leather Wallet ($19) and my battered old Levenger Bavarian Key and Coin case, the original slim version they no longer offer.

• The front padded pocket just under the main flap is perfect for my Levenger Double Zip Eyeglass Case, my iPhone in a WaterField iPhone Suede Jacket ($9), and a Cross ATX pen clipped to the edge for quick access.

An organization trick I often use is to nest a small personal bag into a larger laptop bag. This keeps the essentials separated from the big iron making it easy to haul what I need and only what I need. Turns out a Personal Muzetto fits nicely into the front pocket of my medium-size WaterField Cargo Messenger ($199) where my MacBook Pro lives, safe in a fitted WaterField Sleeve ($57 with the optional flap and worth every penny.)

The things we carry change over time. A bag that fits your stuff today may not fit tomorrow. A truly great bag is one that carries one's personal items for many years. Through some combination of talents, the designer sees what will work going forward and measures accordingly. When he uses excellent materials and cuts no corners putting it all together, the result is a classic. You grow attached to such timeless things. It exceeds your expectations and gives service far beyond anything promised. And such things do not necessarily cost more than cheap transient Chinese crap -- over the long run, that is. The only reason you ever have to buy a classic more than once is if it gets lost or stolen, never because it fell apart, its looks grew tiresome, or its pockets are too era-specific to hold your this year's gear.

Is $179 too much to spend on a man bag? You'll have to make that call for yourself. Remember: You only have to pay once. The Muzetto is built to last functionally, endure aesthetically, and to age gracefully. And that's what I tell myself every time I buy from WaterField. Everything they make that I've held in my hands is simply great and the Muzetto is no exception.

~David MacNeill

WaterField Designs Muzetto

Posted by dtm at June 15, 2009 05:11 PM