A 40-year-old backpack might just be the coolest thing you can show up to school with this year because Eastpak’s original Padded Pak’r is popular again. Even with its most basic of all backpack shapes, a simple teardrop with just two pockets, it has squirmed its way into becoming fashion’s favorite backpack, appearing on multiple runways in recent fashion weeks, helping it easily outrank both Fjällräven’s minimalist square Kanken and Everlane’s “everyone already has this” look for the back-to-school season.
But early adopter American’s who’ve been hearing murmurings of Eastpak’s fashionable return and started looking for these backpacks in stores, might’ve found that they’re hard to find. That’s because Eastpak, a brand founded in America, was purchased in 2000, moved to Belgium, and hasn’t been actively distributed in this country for ten years now. It wasn’t a sneaky, smart business decision like what Adidas did with the Stan Smiths, which were purposefully taken off the market and slowly, deliberately brought back in. Instead, Eastpak’s new owners just noticed that the backpacks were selling much better in Europe and decided to focus on those customers, “It wasn’t really a particularly clever move,” says Stefano Saccone, Eastpak’s general manager.
But it’s had an interesting effect. Whether because they were seeing it everywhere or because they just loved using the backpacks themselves, European fashion designers started becoming obsessed with the brand. The Pak’r’s rise can be marked back to 2004, to the brand’s first-ever designer collaboration, which came about when outlandish Belgian designer Walter van Beirendonck reached out to the brand. Soon after, Raf Simons got in touch because he’s from Belgium and went to school (where he likely saw and possibly owned lots of Eastpaks) in Antwerp, right near the company’s current headquarters. He’s now collaborated with Eastpak on backpacks for the last six years. These mostly European fashion designers want to work with and redesign the Pak’r, Saccone says, because it’s the company’s equivalent of the Vans Old Skool or the Timberland yellow boot — an iconic classic for them. They’ve also worked with A.P.C., Colette, Manolo Blahnik, and Jean-Paul Gaultier, each one gaining more recognition, hype, and interest back in America.
And then came Vetements. Designer Demna Gvasalia got in touch with Saccone to work together on a backpack. When Gvasalia put his spin on the Pak’r — he barely even changed it, only elongating the top handle. It was Gvasalia basically sending the original Eastpak down the runway at the very height of his fashion influence that marked Eastpak, especially the original, basic Pak’r, as fashionable and cool again.
There are some Eastpak backpacks available in U.S. stores now, but they’re only the backpacks designed in collaboration with designers, in the select stores that would otherwise carry those high-end designers. Whenever an American happens upon Eastpak today, it’s only ever a collaboration with Raf Simons or Vetements, or Tim Coppens just adding to the allure. “That’s generated a lot of interest in the brand,” Saccone says. Everything’s better when it’s rare.
So while the pricier collabs are what brought them back here, there are still lots more affordable (think under $100) classic Pak’rs available online right now. Get in early on the trend, when it still has that exotic European sheen.
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