Jan 24, 2022 domenico Surace

How did phone cases go from luggage to the most common way of expressing identity? 

Early phone cases: practicality over aesthetics

The history of phone cases is intrinsically tied to that of the cell phone, obviously, and that begins in 1973, with a prank call. Martin Cooper, head of Motorola's communications systems division, used the first ever official wireless phone to call his rival at Bell Labs.

The phone weighed more than a kilo and a half, and roughly looked like a white brick with a ten centimetres antenna. It required ten hours of charging time for thirty minutes of talk-time and never made it onto the market for consumers, although its design inspired a number of later cell-phone models. The problem was keeping the phone charged, as the communications part worked, and miniaturizing the process because, as it stood, the Motorola model might have been transportable, but it hardly qualified as a portable phone. 

First Motorola

Stunned by the display, and convinced of the future of this technology, phone companies invested in research and development and in the next decade, the batteries evolved, holding charge better, and so did the internal technology.

Phones became smaller and smaller, until the 1990s, where one could easily buy both a phone that fit in your hand, or in your pocket, and a novelty. A phone that was both portable and would come into a holster in a primitive phone case, in which lay another keypad and a way to plug the phone to charge it: the Motorola MR20 case hit the market. About the size of a billfold, it could be tied into your belt loop or around your wrist for carry and lacked in the aesthetics department.

Black, leather, and tactical cloth, it barly compares to the phone cases of nowadays, but more to a satchel. We are still far away from the exotic leather phone cases offered by Marnelo, complete with gold embossing and technological advances. Despite its deficiency, it does not mean that the MR20 was not a statement about the user, exuding the idea of being tech-savvy, an enthusiast ahead of the curve. 

Similarly, we understand the popularity of cell phone holsters among dads of the 90s and 2000s. It does not look great, although you can find engraved leather versions reminiscent of the Far West, but instead favouring practicality and ease of access to your phone. 

What does your phone case say about you

The real beginning of the design revolution in phone conception comes with two phones, some of the best-selling in history: the Motorola Razr and the Nokia 3210-3310. The first of which really turned the phone industry into something akin to the fashion world, with elegant lines and a fine profile.

It was truly an icon for a generation, making appearances in several movies and TV shows to cement itself in the common cultural consciousness. In the same way, if you asked some 30-year-old in France what their first phone was, and you run a good chance of hearing either the 3210 or the 3310 from Nokia. They had a number of advantageous qualities, being so durable, portable and coming in cheaper than most of the competition, and they also allowed for easier customization. One could remove the front of the phone and change it for a customized version that reflected your interest in a slightly tacky way, be it for your favourite football club, TV show or band.

 Many following models offered the same swap possibilities, and the novelty phone cases ingrained themselves into the landscape. 

Startac Motorola

Never more, though, than when a bombshell hit the market: on January 9th, 2007, Steve Jobs presented the first iPhone to the world.

With his wide touchscreen, crisp colours, slick black back panel and round corners, we were graced with a number of new protections. Some of them still had utility functions, could hold your credit card, some had a flap to protect the screen, some were made to look like wood, and now, not only did you own an iPhone, which in itself was a statement, but yours was not like the others. In its novelty and future-facing ways, it spoke about individuality, about being a trendsetter, and there is now doubt that a trend was set at that time.

Nowadays, everyone and their aunt have a phone case, most people opting for plastic, for protection of our increasingly big and fragile phones, and for simple colours. They tend to blend with our environment because they are bland themselves. Of course, you find the occasional backplate with novelty designs, some anime references, some minimalist animals, and still some illustrations of one’s hometown sports club, but they are not the norm. 

Now let us ask you a question: how many times have you actually asked someone “Hey, your phone case is really cool, where did you get it?”. Probably not a lot.

And how many times have you seen an exotic leather case? Until now, probably never. That’s what the phone case market has come to, and what Marnelo offers: being the first, being the trailblazer and astonishing others with a delicate blend of sophistication, luxury and taste.

Opting for a python phone case, with the symbols that are wrapped into this exquisite leather, which you can learn more about here (link), is a statement like no other. It’s a way of expressing your care for yourself, for the item that connects you to others, and the way you choose to live your life: adventurous and free. You can even add to this statement because the next step is customisation with Marnelo. Have your initials forged in gold and embossed in your iPhone case for the ultimate personality setter

Marnelo cardholder