Antwerp may not be seen as a style capital in the eyes of the world, but it should be. Not only has it spawned the most stylish and innovative fashion designers of the moment - Martin Margiela, Ann Demeuelemeester, and newcomer Veronique Branquinho - it is also the original home to Kipling bags.

They do not cost as much as a holiday in Spain, nor do they convey the "I've got one, you haven't, ner ner ne ner ner," vibe normally associated with desirable luggage. Instead Kipling bags are refreshingly well priced, brightly coloured, and somewhat silly accessories that fashion bible American Vogue recently declared to be among the essential status symbols of the Nineties. Others nominated include Dolce Gabbana and Adidas.

The company was launched in 1987 by former marine engineer Paul Van de Velde, who thought it would be funny to sell durable bright rucksacks adorned with a dangling furry monkey, each named after a member of Van de Velde's staff, (this was done in honour of Rudyard Kipling after whom the company was named, and his most famous work, The Jungle Book.)

Since its humble beginnings in Belgium, Kipling has gone global and in 1996 turned over $35 million. They are the bag of choice for American city bankers who rollerblade to and from work, they have appeared in Speed II and Jerry Maguire, (Tom Cruise wears his throughout the film), Friends, ER and Suddenly Susan, and are fast becoming a major rival to American giants Eastpak.

Each bag is made from super strong 420 denier nylon, and fastened with industrial zips, which, many say are the secret of their success. There are four ranges: "basic" which are practical everyday rucksacks; "travel" - big rucksacks, hold-alls and overnight bags for globetrotters; "safety" which feature flashing lights, and reflective panels, perfect for cyclists, rollerbladers, skateboarders etc, and "oxygen" which is chic, smart, structured, and very London. If they are as popular here (when they open their first shop on Monday) as they are in the US, Kipling could soon turn up in EastEnders.

Kipling may not be the Next Big Thing, but they are practical, durable bags, with lots of useful pockets and a funky monkey - not what you normally get from an innovative Belgian who has gone from designing docks to being a fashion millionaire in 10 years. But Belgium is full of surprises.

Kipling's first UK store opens at Neal Street, Covent Garden, Mon Enquiries 0181-208 3080