The ‘It Bag’ Phenomenon Is Back For A New Age

Luxury fashion brands are still trying to reinvigorate the allure of owning a signature bag.

The ‘It Bag’ Phenomenon Is Back For A New Age
Balenciaga's Le Cagole is a direct descendant of its Motorcycle series from the 2000s.

“It’s a Baguette,” quips Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw in a 2000 episode of Sex and the City. In that rather iconic scene, Bradshaw is mugged on a New York City street, and “Baguette” is cleverly pronounced — intentionally or not — in an Americanised manner so it forms a perfect, ironic response to the mugger’s “Give me your bag” request.

The Fendi Baguette — and not just Bradshaw’s purple sequinned version — became a hit after its appearance on the boundary-breaking television show. Noughties fashion icons and socialites such as Paris Hilton, Plum Sykes, and, of course, Sarah Jessica Parker herself, paraded the Baguette around in its various iterations soon after.

Fendi’s Baguette is available in the women’s and men’s universes.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the ‘It bag’ phenomenon was omnipresent, but in the latter decade, it was especially prevalent, partly thanks to a heightened appetite for celebrity-driven news. Carrying one became a status symbol. It meant you were both fashionably in-the-know and connected (or lucky) enough to secure a bag coveted by the whole world.

Twenty years ago, it was also a different time. Social media’s full impact had not yet been realised, and the Internet was still in its infancy. Luxury fashion brands therefore had more authority to dictate and shape trends.

In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily in 2019, then-Barneys New York fashion director Marina Larroudé attested to the difference. As Larroudé noted, “the trends were very clear” in the 2000s. Unless glaringly obvious, it was difficult to pinpoint a silhouette, style or garment as  the defining element of a moment.

While trends then typically lasted only a season before they were replaced, certain looks or silhouettes now have growing longevity. As an example, the New York-based brand Bode’s focus on vintage fabrics and time-honoured craftsmanship has spawned a slew of independent brands with similar aesthetics, a look that has persisted since 2018.

The Balenciaga Le Cagole, a noughties icon refreshed for a new age.

Trends for bags today are even more volatile on a granular level and often stand alone. Furthermore, despite the ‘It bag’ phenomenon fading, brands — both big and small — are trying to reignite the appeal of owning a signature bag.

Some have succeeded by creating outré designs that have fuelled new hits, such as the Cult Gaia architectural Ark bag that was conceived in 2014 and made of 100 per cent bamboo with instantly recognisable grooves. It became a social media phenomenon in 2016 and was a hot favourite with celebrities such as Beyoncé and Jessica Alba. As a result of this new bag’s success, Cult Gaia expanded into ready-to-wear — and more iterations of the Ark such as the Zaha bag.

French brand Jacquemus was one of the first to create micro bags. Le Chiquito — a leather bag with an exaggerated rounded top handle — debuted during its spring/summer 2018 season, but it wasn’t until the autumn/winter 2019 runway show that a mini version made headlines. At 5.3cm by 4.3cm by 1.5cm, it took social media by storm and spawned several memes — an accurate indication of success today.

  • The Jackie 1961 remains a key bag for Gucci.
    The Jackie 1961 remains a key bag for Gucci.
  • Gucci's Jackie 1961 is part of the Gucci Beloved series.
    Gucci’s Jackie 1961 is part of the Gucci Beloved series.

The fact that new, independent brands come up with an ‘It bag’ more easily may be due to the fact that there is little brand context since there are no preconceived notions of its aesthetic, unlike luxury brands whose strength lies in decades of heritage and public perception.

This is especially apparent in Alessandro Michele’s creative direction for Gucci. Though he often takes design cues from the maison’s extensive archives and interweaves them into its newer collections, it wasn’t until autumn/winter 2020 that he completely stripped a bag from the archives. The Jackie — now known as Jackie 1961 — first came out as the Fifties Constance before being renamed in the 1970s, after US First Lady Jackie Kennedy used it as a shield from paparazzi.

The Jackie 1961 has since become part of Gucci’s Gucci Beloved series — a collection of select designs linked to the house’s past. It’s almost identical to the original, save for the different materials and treatments. Male models have even worn the bag on the runway, reflecting Michele’s genderless approach to fashion and the Jackie 1961’s timeless design.

  • A little redesign and the Saddle bag is now a Dior Men classic.
    A little redesign and the Saddle bag is now a Dior Men classic.
  • A little redesign and the Saddle bag is now a Dior Men classic.
    A little redesign and the Saddle bag is now a Dior Men classic.
  • A little redesign and the Saddle bag is now a Dior Men classic.
    A little redesign and the Saddle bag is now a Dior Men classic.

A re-gendering of these icons has helped to introduce the bags to a newer audience. As a result of the sudden reappearance of the vintage bag by fashion pundits, the Saddle bag made a return at Dior in 2018. The John Galliano design — first presented in Dior’s spring/summer 2000 collection — was part of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s autumn/winter 2018 collection.

Shortly afterwards, Dior Men artistic director Kim Jones reimagined the Saddle for men in his debut collection. The Dior Men Saddle bag featured the now-signature buckle designed by Matthew Williams and was turned into a belt bag.

  • The Balenciaga Le Cagole XS bucket bag.
    The Balenciaga Le Cagole XS bucket bag.
  • The Paris Hilton-pink version of the Le Cagole.
    The Paris Hilton-pink version of the Le Cagole.

Fendi took a similar approach with the Baguette. The maison collaborated with Japanese brand Porter-Yoshida & Co. to redesign it for autumn/winter 2019, and it has since become an integral part of Fendi’s menswear universe.

Though the return of noughties fashion may have reignited the trend for it bags, the most obvious homage would have to be Balenciaga’s revival of its Motorcycle series. Kate Moss, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, and Nicole Richie — the fashion darlings of the 2000s — fully embraced the rugged leather design with chunky hardware. Nicolas Ghesquière initially created the bag during his first years at Balenciaga, and it was resurrected by current artistic director Demna. The recently released Le Cajole retains all the elements of the original, but it is packaged in a smaller size.

Nostalgia is a powerful tool. Vintage and secondhand fashion are growing so fast that luxury fashion is getting involved, too. In 2021, Alexander McQueen announced a partnership with online luxury fashion resale platform Vestiaire Collective. Customers can exchange their pre-loved Alexander McQueen items for credit that can be used to make new purchases at the boutiques. Kering Group also invested in Vestiaire Collective in March 2021.

I believe the return of it bags is a testament to the timelessness of brilliant design, despite some seeing it as uncreative cash grabs.

Still, a refresh wouldn’t hurt.

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