Recently, my longtime friend asked me for a handbag recommendation. More specifically, looking for an everyday workbag, she asked me to point her in the direction of a bag maker that made interesting, artful, wicked bags. Apparently, after months of looking, she’d been unable to find one even close to her liking. Join the club, if I may say?
What surprised me wasn’t her difficulties in finding the right bag, but her way of going about it. Instead of looking at fashion brands known for designing irresistible accessories like unorthodox bags, she was searching for unorthodox bag makers. I wondered whether changing her approach would lead to more success.
Normally, when in the market for a piece of clothing or accessory, the most commonsensical approach is to go to the source. Looking for a bag? Go to a bag maker. Historically, brands would gain their reputation by manufacturing distinctive, high quality goods – not for being the source of trends. As fashion got to be synonymous with newness, brands like Louis Vuitton, for example, have needed to move well beyond their high-quality, luxury trunks. Since then, they have gained notoriety for being the architects of contemporary style while being anchored by their iconic luggage. Nowadays, Vuitton is equally recognized for their luxury leather goods, as for their cutting-edge, ready-to-wear collections.
For brands of all kinds, fashion among them, accessories have become a crucial component of their offerings. For instance, an oversized flea market bag can become a tipping point capable of catapulting brand’s reputation instantaneously, as it did for the luxury fashion house Balenciaga and its new creative director Demma Gvesalia’s AW16 runway. Suddenly, a label known for feminine yet avant-garde structural pieces can become an overnight sensation for upscaling an inexpensive, lightweight nylon tote into the coveted Balenciaga Bazaar Bag.
Clearly, the fashion turf has widened. A brand’s relevance now hinges on their round-the-clock breakthroughs. Be it a pair of fluorescent gloves or boots, brands need to, and have been, continuously diversifying. High and low-end brands alike have been collaborating with an increasingly wider range of trades and crafts.
So, what was my bag advice? It was two pronged. One: forget the traditional handbag brands and think contemporary fashion houses. Look for fashion designers who are recognized for newness and artistry and who have already designed a handful of unconventional handbags. The French label Maison Margiela and its cult staples label MM6 could be a good place to start. Two: look for traditional bag makers that engage in artist or brand collaborations to infuse their traditional heritage with contemporary edge. Consider looking at the London-based brand Cambridge Satchel Company.
Ultimately, I suggested to my friend that she shop for delight, not just goods. Inventiveness needs to go hand in hand with craftsmanship. An artfully conceived and well-made handbag is an investment that can easily become an endless source of daily pleasure.