No one needed a designer bag when we were stuck in lockdown. Will we ever embrace the accessory again?
Lou Stoppard muses about the life of luxury designer bags after lockdown. Will look customers for functionality and less status in a bag?
I feel it sometimes, like a phantom limb, banging against my side as I move around the house. I sense it nestled in the crook of my arm as I wander from room to room. It was the onetime receptacle of all I held immediately important: purse, receipts, identification, charger, books, tissues (fresh and used), flask, tampons, a card for that delicious but inexpensive Italian restaurant from that one time a few months back. What was it? My surprisingly roomy yet somehow streamlined BALENCIAGA, of course.
My bag of choice was black leather top handle with gold hardware, bought on sale. Once upon a time, I didn’t leave the house without it. Now, of course, because of Covid-19, I no longer leave the house. I haven’t carried my bag for months.
The tote (or clutch or saddlebag) seems a relic of ages past. Will the bag live again?
Masks are the accessory of the moment if one is looking to define such a thing. The tote (or clutch or saddlebag) seems a relic of ages past, gathering dust in bedroom corners and closet shelves. But is this a permanent change in our wardrobe? Or will the luxury designer bag live again?
“In my pre-coronavirus life, my handbag wasn’t so much a way to carry things around as a way to keep things together,” she said. Lockdown has brought about the inverse; that constantly accumulated junk is scattered with abandon around the home, rather than stuffed in one place. “I now have no idea where anything is,” Ana Kinsella, a freelance copywriter in London, was saying.
Katie Hillier knows leather goods better than most, having worked as the creative director of Marc by Marc Jacobs and consulted for an array of luxury brands. Her work at the former British brand Luella, beginning in 1999, was part of what helped kick off the “It” bag movement of the early 2000s.
The work-from-home tote is your backpack, or the bag that fits on your bike.
“It always used to be about the work tote. What is that now?” Ms. Hillier a former creative director of Marc Jacobs said. “The work-from-home tote is your backpack, or the bag that fits on your bike, or the bag that you take to the market or the grocery store or on the march.”
She observed that, throughout lockdown, people have been finessing the minutiae of their routines — the preferred shopping route, the ideal outdoor workout — and will likely now shop with these in mind. “Functionally is going to be even more important than it ever was before,” she said.
She predicts a market for inventive canvas shoppers, lined in something waterproof.
She predicts a market for inventive canvas shoppers, lined in something waterproof, or crossbody bags with adjustable straps for hiking or cycling; “geeky stuff like that.”
Some of the money that might normally have gone on luxury designer bags has, over the last few months, been allocated to bikes. In March, nationwide US sales of bicycles and related-services nearly doubled compared with the same period last year. Large leather bags are impractical for cycling: anything too long swings forward and lodges between the legs, making pedaling difficult, while shoulder styles risk slipping down.
For most attendees at the recent demonstrations, backpacks or fanny-bags were omnipresent.
Handbags are also unhelpful at protests, which have swelled globally. For most attendees at the recent demonstrations, backpacks or fanny-bags were omnipresent.
In various cities, as protesters marched past luxury stores, there were also few handbags to be seen. Nervous of the unrest, GUCCI, CHLOÉ, LOUIS VUITTON, and others had removed the stock, their usually bombastic window displays stripped bare.
Fashion history does attest to a link between changing handbags and social shifts.
According to Colleen Hill, curator of costume and accessories at the Museum at FIT, fashion history does attest to a link between changing handbags and social shifts. “That is an idea that can be traced back to at least the early 20th century, when women began carrying bags that held items such as cosmetics, cigarettes, a wallet and keys,” she said. “All of these signified growing freedoms for women in public life.”
CHANEL’s 2.55, for example, equipped with myriad pockets and a long shoulder strap, “reflected Chanel’s personal, but highly influential, design ethos that combined practicality with high style,” said Ms. Hill.
Now that I stay closer to home, I can get away with smaller and more functional bags.
Ms. Hill said she expected to see another such shift now. “As a New Yorker, I usually carry a large bag that will hold everything I need for the entire day — my iPad or a book, headphones, some cosmetics, my water bottle, and maybe even a spare pair of shoes,” she said. “Now that I stay closer to home, I can get away with smaller and more functional bags.”
She has been relying on a neat black leather tote, purchased on Etsy, years ago: “It’s subdued, and it feels like the right bag for this moment.”
The question of appropriateness is paramount. Typically, luxury designer bags have been a financial crutch for fashion brands, propping up ready-to-wear sales, and, thanks to their logos, serving as a form of advertising. Whether this will remain true given the recession as well as the related shift in attitudes toward big business and wealth inequality is debatable.
I was transported back to a time of commutes, rushing, air travel, post-work drinks, and a laptop ensconced in leather beneath the table. Suddenly, it all felt so heavy.
Later, keen to remember what had once felt so important, I took my former favorite bag for a walk around the house. We meandered from living room to bedroom and back again. After weeks of living bagless, hands-free, my swag weighing down my bicycle basket rather than my shoulders, I was transported back to a time of commutes, rushing, air travel, post-work drinks, and a laptop ensconced in leather beneath the table. Suddenly, it all felt so heavy.
The post Corona era will not change our attitude toward luxury. For every practical and functional bag, there is a luxury option. People in China gave a glimpse of the new approach and invented revenge buying.
The article was adapted from the New York Times “The Phantom Bag” by Lou Stoppard.