Saturday, February 20, 2010

It Bags: A Little Fashion History

Believe it or not, designer fashion was not always focused on "it bags." Once upon a time, most designers rarely made purses. Houses like Gucci, Fendi, Hermes, or Louis Vuitton specialized in well-made leather goods and they were the ones who provided bags for the wealthy. Louis Vuitton has been around since the 1800's, and though their styles are seen as trendy, they have been making the same travelling trunks and purses forever. These items were status symbols, but they were a different, old-fashioned kind, based not just on logos but on quality and lasting forever. The stupid Hermes Kelly bag, which costs like $12,o00 is kind of based on this idea (that and the eternally appropriate WASP classiness of Grace Kelly.)

Above is a photo from The Sartoralist, of a woman carrying the Hermes Kelly bag even though it is a heavy tailored bag which doesn't match her summery outfit at all. (This is a fashion pet peeve of mine- people carrying heavy leather bags with sundresses, shorts, and sweatsuits as if they "go." They don't go! Try a straw bag or a canvas tote or something!)

It was the 90's where purses hit the scene. Prada (previously just an Italian leather goods company) released a bunch of boxy black microfiber purses with their little triangular logos on them that took the world inexplicably by storm. You may also remember Kate Spade's boxy microfiber purse, which, like the Prada, inspired zillions of fakes. I certainly remember it, because during those days, when visiting New York with my mother and aunt, what seemed like days would be spent wandering through the cramped stalls on Canal Street in 100 degree weather and intense humidity, dodging piles of festering garbage to get one's hands on an authentic KADE SPATE (discount for upside-down logo!)

Then Fendi released their fugly "baguettes", and the craze for "It bags" with tons of crap stuck to them really began! Soon, everyone had to have Chloe's "Paddington" (an especially disturbing version that looks like one of those giant Iraqi land spiders, shown above), burdened by a chunky padlock, that Balenciaga bag with the little thin strips of leather hanging down, and every other huge, bloated it bag with more crap hanging off it. Designer ads began to feature the model writhing orgasmically around a huge purse, head thrown back in ecstasy over an excess of buckles, chains, charms, and pony fur.

Today, it seems like everyone desires one of these bags. And designers desire to make them, because they carry huge pricetags, sell very well, and no one needs to worry about the typical troublesome aspects of size, tailoring, or fit. They just take a basic shape, add some fringe and some quilting and slap on a price tag. When reading even indie- type fashion blogs, I'm always surprised by how many young women think saving up for their first Miu Miu is truly worth it- especially when there are so many cute, good-quality vintage purses to be had for far less.

While it is worth cracking down on fakes because of terrible labor practices, it is of course also probably worth cracking down on 90% of what is sold at any mall today. People desire the fakes not because the purses hold things (and, based on these ads, erotically cover/mimic one's vagina) but because they have been elevated by the luxury market as the ultimate status symbol. Unlike the solid leather bags of yesteryear, it's hard to believe most of these bags, fake or otherwise, will be held onto very long, because they're all so trendy and stuck in whatever season they came from, and just remind one of the parade of fakes that came after- every single Louis Vuitton with flowers/cherries/etc come to mind. These styles have no integrity.

In conclusion, these it bags are stupid, and we should be insulted by the way they are advertised, the fact that they all weigh 20 pounds, that they are blatantly over-designed, and overall, overwhelmingly tacky. Let us not forget that men's pants are made with roomier, deeper pockets so they can carry things in them and require no external bag, and women's backs often hurt because of the size and shape of their purses. As with so many other aspects of fashion, artifice, and not genuine style or quality, plays the biggest role.

PS: When living in Philadelphia, I noticed many women, especially black women, using the term "pocketbook" instead of purse.

PPS: Coming soon- huge towering chunky platforms also with crap hanging off them- why are they still so popular?


teach people not books said...

i was JUST discussing my sister in law's ugly new lv "speedy" in this exact context. it's so dumb. my brother spent $750 on a bag that is not even a little bit aesthetically pleasing AND widely reproduced as a fake. i don't understand it--they're not wealthy people. they're upper middle class, sure, but i just really want to tell her that her speedy with her uggs and sweatpants not only looks stupid, it looks pathetic. i'd rather see her--and i cringe to say it, i really really do. a part of me dies--in some $300 coach bag that actually makes sense for her to carry with a casual outfit and a DIAPER BAG for christ's sake. i suppose it's one thing to have some bag like this in your repertoire of expensive, trendy bags if you're some spoiled rich teenager and care about these kinds of things. i suppose. but she's 35.

kaitlin said...

I've never owned an it-Bag, never had the desire to, and frankly don't understand the appeal; however, I would cut someone if they tried to take my grandmother's vintage cocktail purses or my mom's slouchy beaten-up 70's purse from me. CUT THEM. People have replaced beauty and function with status. Those bags aren't beautiful, they aren't provocative, they're the leather equivalent of...Leathery-faced orange tanned skin?
Lost my train of thought.
I easily get distracted by bags with tons of shit hanging off of them, mainly because you have to watch yourself or one of those massive dangling objects will knock you out anytime they reach.
And, compared to some of the photographs I found of my grandfather and his fabulous lady college friends in the 30's and 40's, can I just say that the majority of us girls look absolutely stupid these days.
No really.
Look at us.
We look stupid, especially when you put a girl in Uggs and a big purse and a jersey sloppy dress up against one of those ladies in a nice blouse and Hepburn trousers. Like celery going against a big delicious bowl of spaghetti and meatballs when you're really hungry.
Frankly, I'm practically starving for some eye-candy these days.

Arabella said...

Because of this daft trend it's practically impossible to find a sanely priced bag without embellishments. If I see something with a classic structure to it, I'd need a pair of pliers and a blow torch to make it look acceptable.

catherine_sr. said...

If you haven't read it already, I definitely recommend "Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster" by Dana Thomas. It has some interesting information about how luxury brands created "it bags" as a way of luring in customers who can't afford their more expensive items. Also, they are relatively cheap to produce, so the lower overhead equals more profits. I'm not a big fan of designer bags in general, partly because I don't like the whole idea of people being able to guess where, when and how much I spent on my purse. I bought a Coach bag with a cute poppy applique for a very good price at a secondhand store, but I still feel self-conscious about carrying it around, because I don't want to come off as the kind of person who would spend $$$$$ on a handbag that's not particularly versatile.
the renegade bean

Mary said...

Yeah, it's weird how a big part of the appeal of these bags is the recognition factor- obviously that's why people want them to begin with, because people recognize the bag and its cost. But to some of us, that's exactly why we wouldn't want them, even if we liked the style.

At least we can all take comfort in the fact that there are going to be SO MANY of these bags kicking around that no one will want after the trend dies. Hopefully.

Simone said...

All of these ads with models basically fucking the bags is, like, beyond pardody, you know what I mean? THEY ARE FUCKING THE HANDBAGS, PEOPLE.

julia aka garconniere said...

i love you.