It’s mid-March in Tokyo, but it feels like spring already. The people walking the streets of Omotesando are holding their coats in the crooks of their arms, having shed them due to the unexpected heat of the day. Because of the pandemic, I have avoided this quarter for a long time. And I feel like I’ve missed the beauty of its streets and elegant shops for way too long. Today I’m going there with a purpose: to meet Fujii An and the folks from master-piece Japan. The master-piece showroom is located slightly distanced from the main avenue, behind the luxurious Omotesando Hills complex building.
This year I’ve already had the chance to meet the great people from master-piece (MSPC) Japan twice; both times they invited me to their showroom where they showcase their new Autumn/Winter bag collection and a handful of collaborations with other Japanese popular brands such as Nanga and Seiko.
master-piece (or MSPC) is a brand from Osaka, created in 1994. The story of this brand has been covered several times on Carryology. Still, no description will ever give justice to the high quality, extreme functionality, and maniacal attention to detail that master-piece designers give to their products. Speaking with them on two occasions, I got a taste of their brand concept and mindset behind the craft. MSPC is living proof of the Japanese attitude of “monozuguri” (ものつぐり), which embodies a synthesis of technological prowess, know-how, and the spirit of Japan’s manufacturing practices, with a continuous improvement ethos that elevates their limited production pieces to true master-crafted items, unique in their genre.
nunc by master-piece
As soon as I enter the showroom, I catch a glimpse of some of their latest creations: the new brand nunc, entirely designed by one of the master-piece lead designers. The concept behind the brand is “extreme versatility”. The name “nunc” comes from Latin, meaning “What is needed now”, which reflects the extremely versatile design of their pieces. In this way, the bag was born from need and can be adapted and change its shape according to necessity. Even though the brand is born from the MSPC crafters, it is not part of MSPC’s main brand and is the only one not produced in Japan, which makes the cost pretty restrained compared to the average MSPC gear.
master-piece Autumn/Winter 2021 Collection
The master-piece Autumn/Winter 2021 collection is full of gems that elevate functionality and fashion. The materials I have the chance to touch are premium and the technological improvement behind certain details makes me realize how much these people live by their mission of extreme portability without compromises.
The “Mpac” collection looks like a fusion between classic and innovation. The classical “Fredrik Packers” backpack style that many people fancy for its simplicity is enriched by a series of features—the results of long product research and user testing, like the proprietary MSPC shoulder strap bungee system, that allows carrying a heavy load without stressing the shoulders. The packs are made out of a proprietary Cordura fabric (3-layered m-pac) which is completely waterproof. This solves the problem that many have faced when laminating the Cordura with PVC in order to waterproof their packs and consequently making them heavier than necessary.
The Broad collection captured my attention for its authentic design and material.
Again MSPC design with users in mind. Extreme versatility to satisfy a specific use is the key to their design. The Broad collection is crafted for travelers.
This beautiful series of packs and bags was supposed to be released last year. But it has been delayed because of the travel ban imposed by Covid safety measures. MSPC decided (wisely) to leave it “fermenting” for a little longer (Autumn 2021) until travel once again becomes part of our normal life.
This is so far my favorite series of the entire collection. All the bags are made out of sturdy Nylon and their proprietary Cordura fabric. Each bag and pack have a camouflage pattern, made through bleaching (and which gives each piece a unique look). The sensation at touch is very good like only premium materials can feel. My favorite piece is a 25L pack, with a frontal double zipper. It opens entirely to transform the pack into an amenity bag you can hook on the wall of your hotel room. The 35L also has a shoe compartment in the bottom. Again, premium attention to the details and incredible features all throughout the collection.
The Urban collection is an elegant mix of leather and nylon. The bags are a classic business-oriented style, with special attention to premium details. The shoulder straps are designed with a proprietary polyurethane. This is extremely soft and supportive, perfect for the everyday commute with a laptop and notebooks. This bag series is perhaps the most fashionable, but still doesn’t lose a bit of great functionality. It has been carefully handcrafted around a specific user need. MSPC gear is designed to evolve with user behaviors, so each feature is custom-built to accomplish a customer need, like detachable external pockets that serve as waste disposal for used masks.
The clothing line showcases how committed these guys are to functionality.
The MSPC Wear line made me understand how serious and passionate the people at MSPC are about Carrying. Their entire philosophy can be admired in the design of their jackets and pants. Every piece of clothing crafted by master-piece is engineered around the necessities and issues of people carrying bags and backpacks. As a result of this problem-solving mindset, you’ll find out that every jacket, sweater, and pair of pants has abrasion-resistant materials, placed in strategic points like on the back and shoulders, where the bag straps inevitably wear out clothes. The shirts will have a hidden button placket, the down jacket won’t have stitches, and the pants will lack belt loops, usually where most jackets get distressed by the friction with a backpack. Even the business casual suits are made with a mix of abrasion-resistant Cordura.
A very iconic piece of urban wear is their raincoat. Similar in concept to the classic rain poncho (but very far from the poncho design), it’s engineered to be worn under a backpack or on top of it! Yes, the back of the coat is expandable to fit and cover the entire backpack (handy if you are using a non-waterproof one). The coat also has strategic zippers to access your jacket’s pockets underneath or to the shoulder bag.
My personal assumption about this design is related to specific Japanese use cases requiring a little more context to grasp correctly. It’s well known that Japanese people often measure convenience by the amount of inconvenience they avoid causing to other people. It’s a good habit when commuting by train in Japan to take off your backpack and hold it at your chest or at your feet to avoid hitting other passengers with your carry or taking up too much space. This is particularly relevant during the rainy season, where most people’s packs and bags will presumably be wet and soak into other passengers’ business suits, especially in rush hours. With this raincoat, MSPC proposes a solution to a problematic cause for early morning “altercations” between commuters.
Second Exhibit Autumn/Winter Collection
I revisited MSPC in May to discover new pieces from their Autumn/Winter collection. And, to my great delight, their collaboration with Nanga—an iconic Japanese down garments maker. Nanga has become popular for their sleeping bags. And more recently with their down jackets and the multiple collaborations with brands in the Japanese high fashion ecosystem.
The collaboration with Nanga produced a few interesting pieces of clothing which bring the concept of outdoor versatility into the urban environment. Obviously, it also follows the same original MSPC concept of adaptability when carrying a pack. In this direction, the down jacket has a back that completely rolls up to avoid the problem of sweating when wearing a down jacket and carrying a pack in winter. The attention to detail is great as usual; for example, the smooth material under the jacket sleeves reduces the friction and abrasion with the pack’s straps. This Down Jacket is a limited edition, produced in a small quantity batch.
Other impressive pieces of clothing—like the hand warmer bag (also a collab with Nanga) or the jacket made out of Mastertex, an original material made out of waterproof Cordura— caught my attention; each piece of this collection represents the synthesis of years of experience in designing gear.
The collaboration with Seiko was also brilliant. MSPC partnered with the world-famous Japanese watchmaker after coming to the realization that they share similar values about Japanese craftsmanship. The collaboration has kicked off five models in total. Two of them are Seiko limited edition X MSPC branded, and the other three are regular Seiko branded.
I’ve known of MSPC for a while but I have never had the opportunity to take a close-up look at their craft. And I wasn’t expecting to be so amazed by the amount of passion and motivation behind their style choices.
As a carry enthusiast (and as a product designer myself) it’s gratifying to see that MSPC is not looking to just chase trends. They believe in user research and testing. They meticulously craft every single detail of their product to serve a well-defined purpose and almost nothing is a casual coincidence. Still, the amount of development and innovation behind their brand isn’t immediately obvious; only by getting closer to their world do you realize this is not your average gear maker, but something in a different class—elevated, superior.
Many thanks to Ric Koke for this article.