May 19, 2011  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Design
The Freitag Top Cat Bag: Environmentally Responsible and Good-Looking, Too

Markus Freitag and Daniel Freitag. Top Cat Bag (model F13). 1993. Used truck tarpaulins, seatbelts, and innertubes). Manufactured by Freitag, Zurich, Switzerland. The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of Lars Müller

As the Architecture and Design Objects Preparator, it’s not unusual for me to catch people in the galleries pointing at an object I’ve installed, saying something like, “I have one of those.” I suspect you’re not likely to hear this very often in the Painting and Sculpture Galleries, but it happens all the time on the third floor.

“My grandmother in Chicago had those!” someone said while pointing at the Wagenfeld Kubus containers. I heard “My best friend’s parents had those chairs and the table when I was a kid,” from a visitor standing in front of the Saarinen Tulip Armchair, and “My husband just got that same pitcher from eBay, only in grey,” in front of a Russel Wright American Modern water pitcher.

And most recently: “I have one of those Freitag bags.” Okay, full disclosure here: that Freitag bag comment…that was me.

It’s just that I’ve been thinking a lot about the Freitag Top Cat bags lately, since I get to see them in the exhibition Standard Deviations: Types and Families in Contemporary Design almost every day. I don’t know what it’s like in other towns, but life in New York requires a really good messenger bag; something not too big, but big enough; not too heavy, but substantial; something that can go over the shoulder—an adjustable strap is particularly convenient—and most importantly, it has to look good. Yes, it has to be good-looking, but it can’t be too precious, considering it’s likely to spend time on the floor of the subway between your feet. The Top Cat easily meets these requirements. But its true merits really lie in its material origins—its creative, environmentally responsible origins.

In 1993, Markus and Daniel Freitag, two young Swiss designers, wanted NYC-style bike messenger bags of their own, only waterproof. So they made them themselves, from 100% recycled materials—a section of a used truck tarpaulin, an old safety belt, and pieces from a used bicycle inner tube.

Environmental responsibility and ecological awareness are the concerns of many designers. The SMIT design group (Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology) uses recycled and reclaimed materials in designs like GROW, the ivy-like solar- and wind-energy building panel, first exhibited at MoMA in the Design and the Elastic Mind exhibition. Also in MoMA’s collection are the economical Moscardino sporks made of Mater-Bi®, a completely biodegradable starch-based plastic.

As time goes by, I suspect that innovative, environmentally minded designs like these will begin to crop up in visitors’ homes and daily lives as well. In the early 1950s, Dr. Adnan Tarcici began working on designs for energy-saving cookers like the Solnar Tarcici Collapsible Solar Cooker. Although I haven’t yet, I look forward to hearing someone say “I grew up with that exact same solar cooker.”