In search of the perfect work bag: Senreve Maestra review, and why it didn’t work for me

Because I now have to carry so much stuff to work, I am now in search of the perfect work bag. On any given day, I will definitely be carrying: 

  1. Breast pump, breast pump parts, and associated paraphernalia including cooler bag for milk, +/- ice packs in said cooler bag, pumping bra, empty milk bags, battery bank to recharge my pump,etc
  2. Usual everyday carry stuff, like wallet, phone, keys, pens 
  3. Work-related equipment, including at least two boxes of lenses, scrub hat, extra pair of socks, small notebook for recording notes of operating room cases, and small hard drive
  4. Water bottle or thermos 
  5. Lunch box in its own cooler bag
  6. Ziplock style snack bag (I like these silicone ones from Stasher) with some apples inside 
  7. Random small electronics, like USB drive, backup phone charger, etc.    I might also be carrying the following: 
  8. Surface Book 2 15″ laptop in its own case if extra cushion needed
  9. Extra set of clothes, because sometimes on days I’m in clinic and the operating room, I need separate sets of clothes and sometimes separate sets of shoes too. 

That is a LOT of stuff. 

A few years ago, before I became a mama, I got a Senreve Maestra bag in the large size, “sand” colorway from the hubby as a gift. This was before I had to carry breast pump and parts around, and also before I got a 15″ laptop (I used to have a 13″ Surface Pro then, which was much more compact). I used it for awhile but decided just now to let it go. I thought I would review what I liked about it and why it didn’t work out for me. There’s not a lot written out there about it that aren’t sponsored posts so I thought a personal and honest review might be useful. 

Bottom line: It’s too small for me to be a functional work bag. 

Now onto the details:   

Construction/Design/Organization: This is a sturdily constructed bag. It’s quite structured because of the nature of the leather. It’s not quite as plasticky or processed as saffiano, but it’s kind of in that vein. The lining is also a really thick Alcantara-like microsuede that really feels luxurious. I’m personally more partial to a smooshy full grain leather or thick rough full-grain leather, but this is more refined version which definitely looks feminine and elegant. It’s also really great for a light-colored leather bag, which I was really afraid would get dirty immediately. To my surprise, it was pretty resistant to stains and dirt, even on corners or when I set it down. I saw a Midi size in the blush colorway in a Nordstrom and actually liked that leather even better. It had just the right combination of stiff/structured and soft/leathery, and it smelled great! I love leather smell. The downside of the structured leather is that it can get bent or dented. Mine moved across the country and in storage it did get a little dented on the sides. 

The pockets inside are multitudinous. For normal every day carry, I could find a pocket for anything. Sunglasses? Check. Pens? Obviously check. Usb drive or lipstick? Yep. And of course the zipper tablet sleeve and the snapped laptop sleeve. It’s actually a bit too large for my normal every day carry to the grocery store or to the mall actually. A little overkill. 

Ultimately though, despite its awesome internal organization and roomy size, it’s just too small to fit everything I need for work. The laptop sleeve is nice but it only fits up to 13″ laptop. This worked okay when I had an ultra slim laptop that was more like a big tablet (i.e., Surface Pro) but doesn’t work when I have a giant hulking 15″ laptop that’s got one inch thick hinges. I can fit that into the center compartment (just barely) but then the bag won’t zip and I pretty much can’t put anything else into the bag.  This bag excels at traveling though. It’s a great under-the-seat-in-front-of-you personal item, if your laptop is stowed in a different bag in the overhead compartment. The tablet sleeve is great for the tablet, or for a kindle. You can fit a water bottle, keys, sunglasses, wallet, boarding pass, snacks, may even a rolled up travel neck pillow and blanket. It zips up too, so that if you lay it down on the floor you don’t need to worry about things sliding out. I took it across the country a few times and it was great for airplanes. 

Convertible Backpack Straps: This is a selling point of the bag. You can carry with the long straps on the shoulder or crossbody, or quickly pull them up through the loops to carry as a backpack. 

In theory this is awesome. In practice it is less awesome. The times when I most wanted to carry it as a backpack were the times when it was loaded most full up, and therefore the heaviest. The straps in backpack mode are not the most comfortable for heavier loads. I took it on a light hike while sightseeing and it worked okay for that purpose when you want to look pretty in pictures by carrying a nice bag but still have it be a backpack. To keep the backpack straps on the right and left side approximately the same length, the strap widens a little in the middle. This wider part is supposed to stay in place between the two metal loops holding it in place in the back, preventing the straps from sliding around. It doesn’t work if the bag is heavy though–the strap still slides around between right and left sides and makes backpack carry awkward. Forget it if you are in the habit of slinging a backpack over one shoulder. If this one’s loaded up, that one-shoulder backpack strap will just get super super long. 

Aesthestics: Obviously this is a matter of personal preference, but I have never liked the way the bag looks. It’s got a bit of the Celine belt bag vibes going for it, with the overall shape, the flap, the indented flap corners, the top handle, where the shoulder strap emerges from the bag. But it’s got a little too much going on in the front for me with the weird double hump and the bottom corner action. I LOVE the look of the Celine belt bag though. In addition, the Senreve type of closure with the one-thin-strap-over-the-top is my all time least favorite bag closure ever. Every time you get into the bag you have to undo the strap, and you can’t just leave it undone because it’s flapping all over the place and it looks terrible undone. So then you gotta do it up every time. Hate it. 

I much prefer the look and functionality of the original Celine belt bag (albeit smaller and at a much higher price tag, and minus the awesome organizational interior). 

Botkier also makes a bag that is extremely similar (read: practically a dupe) to the Senreve Maestra Mini, including the convertible backpack strap design. It is at a much more affordable price point but doesn’t have the awesome organizational interior. It’s looks are like the Celine Belt Bag and the Senreve Maestra got together and had a baby! 

To be honest, I picked up the Botkier bag during a great sale and plan to use it as an everyday type of bag when I want to carry my camera gear around. It’s a sturdy saffiano leather too, albeit not as nice as Senreve’s leather. The interior is a decently nice canvas. And I think it looks nicer with the minimal front and the metal horizontal closure. WIN! 

Overall value: The Senreve Maestra is obviously a very well-constructed, quality bag with some neat features like the convertible backpack straps and great interior organization. However, it’s got a finicky-for-me closure, less than ideal aesthetics, and backpack straps that don’t work as well as I’d like. It’s too large for every day, and too small for actual work. For the price it’s going at (nearly $1000) it would have to be my daily workhorse driver to make it worth it for me to buy at full price. They don’t really do sales, either. It’s a great travel bag for the airplane, but since I don’t travel that much, I just can’t justify keeping it around in my closet. And so it has gone on to another home where I hope it will get lots more love and use. 

The search for the perfect work bag continues!