In the L.A. of my dreams quirks and imperfections will be a part of the city’s charm

Writer Julissa James and her Prada bag for issue 07, Image magazine.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez/For The Times)
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This story is part of Image issue 7, “Survival,” a collective vision for the L.A. of our dreams. See the full package here.

Dear Backpack,

When I found you, I was at a secondhand store doing what you now probably realize is my thing: perusing the aisles and expecting to find nothing at all. When I’m happy, bored or sad — mostly when I’m sad — I return to the place where we met, or at least to a place like where we met, and I thrift.

It had been a minute since my glory years of secondhand shopping, when ’90s Steve Madden platforms and Betsey Johnson slip dresses hadn’t yet been hijacked by Depop resellers and replaced with endless amounts of Shein and Fashion Nova. I hadn’t had a truly lucky secondhand store day in months. But it didn’t matter; that wasn’t why I was there. This ritual had been ingrained in me since childhood by my mom, who did the same thing when she was happy or bored or sad. (Mostly sad.) It was less about outcome than the action itself: Walking, looking, taking it all in, losing myself in a sea of other people’s old stuff and hoping the entire experience would somehow help me feel like myself again.

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These letters are part of Image issue 7, “Survival,” a collective vision for the L.A. of our dreams.

Imagine my surprise then when I found you while scanning the wall of bags: Buttery black leather, broken in but still perfect; you looked unassuming, which is probably why no one had noticed you yet. On closer inspection, I saw an almost-invisible label indented into the top flap, then on your inner lining: Prada. Prada?! I felt like I’d seen something I shouldn’t have. I snatched you up quickly and held you close like a secret, mouthing “Ohhhhh my Goddd” silently so no one would suspect anything. I paid the $7.99 and walked out like I’d just gotten away with a crime.

Writer Julissa James and her Prada bag for issue 07, Image magazine.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez/For The Times)

I’ve never been someone obsessed with labels or luxury items. But I am someone who likes things that last, and I have an affinity for small black backpacks. Years ago, I was at Ross when someone in the next aisle said: “I don’t understand why grown people use backpacks as purses.” Meanwhile there I was, wearing a backpack as a purse. This person didn’t get it. They didn’t see you as I do. Your longevity, your versatility, your tactile nature. You’re sleek and small but carry everything I need without burden. At least two lipsticks, one a grungey brick color and one a nude brown, and one Chapstick. My wallet, which holds expired IDs of years past, small reminders of who I was. A lighter (just in case). My bulky set of keys. An emerald green Damascus rose body oil that rubs its smell off on you. A pen and reporter’s notebook. A recording device for interviews.

You hide my messiness and bad habits too in a beautiful shell: the growing stash of straw wrappers from too many iced coffees, receipts from too many impulse purchases. Random business cards that I can’t seem to throw away. I take you with me everywhere. You’ve seen me suited up at work events on the weekdays, casual while getting drinks with friends on the weekends. You’re not always perfect, but you do your best. Sure, that left strap comes undone almost without fail when I’m dancing at sweaty warehouses on Saturday nights, but I strap you up again without missing a beat.

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Writer Julissa James and her Prada bag for issue 07, Image magazine.
(Samanta Helou Hernandez/For The Times)

It’s these quirks and imperfections that are part of your charm. They prove that you’ve had a long life, with experiences and bumps along the way. I think that’s why I’m so attached to you. Why I’ll have you forever: You’re supposed to be put together — you’re a Prada backpack, after all — but you’re flawed. And still, no less worthy of a second chance, no less worthy of love, no less beautiful.

I’m trying to think of future versions of myself that way too.

Yours in thrift store dust,

Juju

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