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The Legendary MacCase Flight Jacket Turns 15
It's been called the "The Greatest Laptop Case Ever Designed". When MacCase Chief Creative Officer Michel Santoro created the MacCase Flight Jacket he was not aware he was creating an icon. It has gone on to be one of the most memorable and best-reviewed cases ever. The 15+ years and counting for a laptop case in an industry whose product life cycles are similar to a fruit fly.
Today we are talking with Michael Santoro, President and Chief Creative Officer of MacCase on the 15th anniversary of the launch of one of the company's most iconic case designs, the MacCase Flight Jacket.
JKD: As a designer who's had a lot of success throughout your career, what does this 15th anniversary of the MacCase Flight Jacket mean to you?
MS: It's astounding actually. I never in a million years dreamed that these little leather cases for what was then the 13", 15" and 17" PowerBooks would still be going strong in production 15 years later. Sometimes, you just get it right.
The power of the design can be seen in how it's translated into the larger, more robust Briefcase version and the various smaller iPad versions.
JKD: What was the inspiration for the Flight Jacket's iconic design?
MS: It was a combination of things. The time I spent designing Jeeps at Chrysler taught me a lot about how to implement certain elements of a design vocabulary.
There were heralded details like the round headlights, the vertical bars for the grill opening and a certain stance the vehicle needed to have that were a challenge to use in a way that would never get old or look dated. These were some great, real-world design lessons I put into these leather MacBook Pro cases when I first sat down to start sketching.
Another big influence on the Flight Jacket was the teachings of Professor William Fogler. I studied with him at Pratt. He taught me things about how elements should relate to each other within and across a design that is in everything I've done since then. These ideas are all over the Flight Jacket cases too.
Lastly, I would say living in California, in the West in general. It's a big, beautiful place, big in land mass but also spirit. I think about the people who came out here 150 years ago. How brave they must have been. I've tried to channel a bit of that spirit into the design as well.
If you put those things together with some of the best quality, richest and aromatic hides available, you better not mess that up! (laughing). In the end, I sat down to design the best case I could. The MacCase Flight Jacket was the right combination of elements, influenced by the right things, filtered through a career of trying to do good work.
MacCase Flight Jacket: Designing an Icon
JKD: You talk about MacCase's first principles of design, one of them being timelessness. Flight Jackets have been out on the market for 15+ years now yet they seem to have not aged at all aesthetically. How were you or are you able to achieve this?
MS: I don't really know. I know I'm supposed to know, but it's not like there's a button or a setting on an app that you just push and a design that never gets old pops out. I wish it was that easy!
I think if you commit to doing creative work at a certain level, and you keep pushing yourself and your abilities and stay open to the voices that keep you humble, every once in a while, all the pieces come together and you can achieve something special. I believe that's what happened here.
Another major thing I had going for me when I sat down to design this bag is that the job it needed to do lent itself to my visual skill set. What I mean by that is that the case needed to do X, Y and Z. Those things happened to be 3 things I could balance easily. I knew how to do this before the pencil hit the paper.
I always make the analogy to music. Some artists have a long career and have some good albums and some not so stellar ones. But the great artists are able to pull all the pieces together to do a St. Pepper, a Born to Run or an American Idiot. Those are the moments you hope, wait and work for. The MacCase Flight Jacket is one of those moments.
The other thing I want to say about the idea of creating a timeless design is, you don't know it when you're doing it because time has to pass before it becomes this iconic thing. Timelessness can only be viewed after the passage of time. Kind of ironic, isn't it?
Creating a Timeless Laptop Case
JKD: The thing that strikes me about the MacCase Flight Jackets is that they do not look old. What I mean is that there are so many bags out there that look like they were designed in 1808, not 2008. Their overall aesthetic is extremely dated. Somehow the Flight Jackets look contemporary. How were you able to achieve this and was this a conscious choice?
MS: Let's start with the easy one first. Yes, it is always a conscious choice. The only reason I can think of why bag manufacturers make their designs look like they are from the 1800s is because they don't have anything new to say. If they did, wouldn't they?
Would you buy a car that looked like it was from the 1930s? Or wear a suit or dress from the 1910s? Yet bag makers somehow feel it's OK to purposefully make their products look old and dated. Customers pony up and pay for bags that have no innovation in them at all. It's crazy.
So yes, it was most definitely a conscious choice to not make the Flight Jacket or any other MacCase look old, as you put it. Of course, it's infinitely harder to make a design new, contemporary, innovative and beautiful, or in this case, timeless as well.
I think that is partly the explanation for the success of the Flight Jackets over the last decade. The designs are contemporary. They are not some throwback to some bygone era. They are not "retro". People can relate to the proportions and the detailing. It makes sense to them in this new century.
Yet you take this contemporary design and finish it in our warm, inviting, romantic vintage hides and you have something that speaks to the past as well as the present. The vintage hides speak to the time of handmade things or a certain quality. A MacCase Flight Jacket in vintage evokes this.
I think this is one reason the design is still so popular after so many years. It's a blend of everything that people perceive as positive about the past within a compact modern, well-proportioned form. That's a tough combination to beat.
MacCase Flight Jacket Future
JKD: Have you ever thought about redoing or updating the Flight Jacket design?
MS: I have. There are things that I would like to implement that I have used in later iPad versions that customers have been asking for in the MacBook Pro models.
For the iPad version, we offer a large pouch option which we also do on the larger Briefcase. Customers like this option. It expands the functionality of the MacCase Flight Jacket. On the original design, we use velcro to close the flap and a buckle to hold the pouch.
On the iPad and Briefcase, we switched them so the flap is closed with a buckle and the pouches are held in place with velcro. The velcro allows us to switch the pouches out for a larger size in a cost-effective way. So we have the large pouch option.
If I do "update" the MacBook Pro version of the Flight Jacket at some point, that will be included in the freshening.