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A Handle on the World

From Asprey to Zero Halliburton, Attachés Have Cachet. They Carry Clout--and Your Business Papers.
Debbi J. Karpowicz
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95

Robin Leach, host of the television show "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," remembers the day he lost his briefcase and vowed never to carry another. "I lost my briefcase in a New York City taxicab," Leach explains. "It contained three books with some of the world's most private telephone numbers. Subsequently, I went to the lost and found, but it hadn't been turned in. So I offered a $500 reward for it and then went to see a detective."

When that approach didn't work, Leach visited a hypnotist to see whether he could recall anything about the cab or its driver. "I came up with a pretty good description of the female driver," Leach says.

The detective tracked down the woman, who hadn't turned in the briefcase because she feared being arrested for stealing, even though the loss was an accident. She met the detective in a coffee shop, handed over the briefcase--everything was still intact--and collected $500.

Ever since the incident, Leach says he has sworn off briefcases. "I'm probably the only member of the 'rich and famous' who doesn't carry a briefcase," he admits. Today Leach carries his ideal tote: an Andiamo over-the-shoulder bag that was a gift five years ago from one of his directors. He just added one small detail: an outside label bearing his office address.

"The fabric is virtually indestructible," Leach says. "What I like about it is that it has got two central portions that expand: a zippered compartment and a buttoned compartment. It enables me to have two ever expanding compartments: one for files and diaries, the other for toilet supplies, electric razor, credit cards, keys, camera, film, checkbook, medicine, mobile phone and three very good Cuban cigars."

"I carry it every day," Leach adds. "I might be expected to have a Louis Vuitton, Mark Cross or Gucci briefcase, but I opt for practicality."

Leach is right. Based on his glamorous, jet-set lifestyle, it's assumed that he carries a prestigious briefcase. Why? Because a briefcase, like an Armani suit, Patek Philippe watch or Mont Blanc pen, is a business accessory that conveys power and speaks volumes about a person--before the first word is uttered. A briefcase is a subtle combination of fashion accessory, marketing tool, travel-ing office and security blanket. Some--like the silver Zero Halliburton--demand that the world notice. Some--like Swaine Adeney--are more elegant. Others--like Seeger--whisper rather than shout their credentials. Some--in "leather-look" vinyl--make a bad impression, while today's canvas and nylon totes make a trendsetting statement. As Leach might tell you, a briefcase will carry your papers and, depending on your motives, as little or as much clout as your heart desires.

Susan Bixler knows all about it. Author of Professional Presence, Bixler is president of the Professional Image, an Atlanta-based consulting firm whose 1,200 clients include Citibank, American Express and Ritz-Carlton. "A briefcase says a lot," says Bixler, who carries a soft case. "There's a certain status. The large, hard-sided, plastic-molded ones that cost about $40 say: 'I'm a worker. I have to have everything with me. So I keep it in my briefcase.' It's a security blanket."

On the other hand, Bixler adds, "if you walk in with a thin briefcase and a minimum of props, it shows you have a lot of intellectual capacity between the ears. The meeting is more customer focused than selling focused."

In Bixler's opinion, an executive's one and only choice is a leather briefcase in black, light tan or cordovan. "Vinyl or plastic doesn't last as long or look as good," she says.


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