It is the bag that brought the Bill Amberg name to public attention and now, almost 30 years since its first appearance, the Rocket Bag relaunches.
If there’s one bag that can be said to have brought the Bill Amberg name to public attention and launched his global career as a leather craftsman, it’s the Rocket. When it was first released in 1990, no one had seen anything like it. It was clear almost immediately that Bill Amberg had created something unusual and iconic.
The Rocket Bag’s unique design somehow seemed both strikingly modern and timelessly classic at the same time – an object that had hopped through time from the past to the future and somehow landed in the present. With its use of the traditional techniques of English saddlery – cut and polished edges and manual saddle-stitching – it was recognisably a bag in the briefcase tradition but its modern design – fluid, curving lines and polished aluminium handle – seemed to have been transplanted from another world.
And in a way, they had. The young Bill Amberg was an aficionado of 1970s comic-book sci-fi, with its ingenious spaceships and frontier-crossing imagination. If you look at the profile of the Rocket Bag today, it’s not fanciful to identify the classic torpedo contours of an interplanetary craft – something Dan Dare might have ridden to the moon. The polished aluminium of the handle lends the bag another space-age touch, but the inspiration behind this detail can be found a lot closer to home. In 1985, Bill bought his first classic English motorbike (he’s also a fan of two-wheeled transport in all its forms, but especially single-cylinder English motorcycles). This interest nurtured a real affection for polished cast aluminium – its beautiful look and texture, the way it patinates as it ages if its left unpolished. In many ways, aluminium behaves like leather, acquiring more character the less you do to it.
The shape of the bag, the use of aluminium, and the revival it represented in a long-dormant tradition of English leathercraft all contributed to the Rocket Bag’s impact. For many, Bill’s unprecedented new briefcase design represented one of the biggest innovations in English leather design since pioneering leatherworker and founder of Northampton’s Museum of Leather Craftsmanship John W Waterer conceived the Taycall wardrobe case in the 1940s, which became the revolutionary forerunner of Aerolite luggage. Bill Amberg’s Rocket Bag brought the English leather industry back into the spotlight, marking the dawn of a new generation of English leather goods.
It was on that basis that the V&A accepted the Rocket into their permanent collection in 2001, and its one-of-a-kind design also earned it a showcase at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Almost 30 years have passed since its first appearance, but the Rocket Bag hasn’t dated a jot. Those lucky enough to have got their hands on one in the 1990s are now the owners of bags that have aged wonderfully, as the semi-aniline-dyed, vegetable tanned leather has mellowed into its lustrous patina, turning each bag into a unique and characterful piece that wears its story on its surface.
But for those who weren’t fortunate enough to acquire one, the newly reopened Bill Amberg shop is now selling a limited-edition range of Rocket Bags – freshly revamped to meet the demands of modern life (quite a lot has changed in three decades). Like the original, the 2016 Rocket is crafted entirely in England using time-proven making techniques and natural materials – a thoroughly modern bag that could only have come from centuries of tradition.
Available in black and tan shoulder leather, the relaunched Rocket has been resized, is lined in pigskin suede, and includes pocketing for a 17” inch laptop, passport, phone, sunglasses, and anything else that the user is likely to need in their day-to-day adventures. Whether or not they’re going to the moon.