The Portfolio Patina Edition
On Italian leather, ‘90s shopping malls, and scars
Rebekah Sanderlin (RS) is a writer (screen, books, copy, essays) and a marketing strategist.
The older I get, the more motivated I am to invest in quality pieces that last for years. And nothing I have ever owned has brought me as much utilitarian joy as my Bosca leather portfolio.
Why is this interesting?
I was not committed to quality when I bought the portfolio. Quite the opposite. I was 16 years old and it was 1993, the golden age of shopping malls. Rather than desiring a hand-stained, Italian leather writing implement made by a 100+ year-old company, I desperately wanted to make out in a shadowy corner of Percy Warner Park with a boy named Josh/Jason/Brad. (They were all Joshes, Jasons, and Brads back then.) He worked in the Abercrombie & Fitch store in the Bellevue Mall—the very top of the teenage hierarchy in 90’s Nashville. I reasoned that my most likely route to Josh/Jason/Brad was climate controlled and open from 11 am until 8 pm, 9 in the summers.
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Back then, malls were the Studio 54 of suburban teenage debauchery. All the good drugs were dealt in the parking lot and everyone was hooking up in the network of secret hallways. Oh, you didn’t know about the hookups and the secret hallways? Orange Julius girls, Chess King guys, even the folks from Spencer Gifts were getting down and dirty in network of hidden highways coursing through the inner walls of the mall. And I wanted in.
I set out to find a (non-food service, non-kiosk) job because the more expensive your store, the higher your mall clout. A kiosk worker wouldn’t even consider asking out a first key at Victoria’s Secret. That would just never happen. Unfortunately, the only high-end store hiring was Georgetown Leather Design. Selling calf-skin bombers and full-length leather trenches on commission in Tennessee in July was not a financially wise move for me, but it did land me a spot in the upper echelon of retail dating.
I made no money that summer. None. And I never cracked the Abercrombie boy code. Best I could tell, that rarefied world was reserved for girls who worked at The Limited. The closest I got was getting hit on relentlessly by a kayak-obsessed clerk at Eddie Bauer. Instead, I spent all summer trying to sell shearling coats meant for a Montana winter to women who wandered in on their way to The Body Shop. They sweated through their baby tees and Daisy Dukes and looked over my shoulder at the door while I explained the difference between European and Egyptian lamb.
And then one day my boss had me mark some new items on clearance. Among them, a luxurious, dark brown Bosca portfolio. I did the math. With the clearance price and my 35% employee discount, it would still cost me $75. I gulped and went for it. It was the only thing I bought during my entire career as a leather salesperson.
That fall, I carried my portfolio with me to Model U.N., where I was named Chief Justice of the International Court, thank you very much.
In college, it went to all my classes with me, from my early Biblical Archaeology studies to my eventual major in Journalism. It went with me every day on my first journalism job, interviewing everyone from a city council members to a dominatrix who later sued me for defamation. Go figure.
It went with me to law school—for just one year because law school, it turns out, is stab-yourself-in-the-eyeballs boring.
There’s a little window in the portfolio for a business card and I dutifully switched out my cards at my second, third, and fourth journalism jobs. But then, in March 2003, I slid a tiny candid of my husband and I dancing at our wedding into that window, and that snapshot has been there ever since.
The nicks and scratches on the surface of my portfolio, the discolorations in the leather from my sometimes sweaty and trembling, sometimes clammy, sometimes bored and fidgety hands, tell my professional stories during three fascinating decades of life much as my scars and stretch marks tell of my personal trials and triumphs.
I give Bosca portfolios now as graduation presents to new adults who probably never use them. They almost certainly don’t value theirs like I value mine. Yet. And that’s okay. They’ll have to go through their own Josh/Jason/Brads, their own changing priorities and careers, before they discover that some things are disposable and others are meant to be kept. (RS)
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Rebekah (RS)
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