There are certain handbags that you fall in love with as soon as you lay your eyes on them – sometimes, it’s as simple as seeing a bag on the runway. There are others that you like when you physically try them on. And some purses grow on you only very gradually: as you see others giving rave reviews, as you witness multitudes of users swearing by them, as you read about everyone from well-known fashion editors to iconic celebrities, not to mention devout bag-lovers, discussing their love for these purses at length, you start to think – maybe you like them too?
For me, Balenciaga’s Motorcycle bags belong to this latter category – so much, in fact, that I might just be contemplating getting myself a Bal Work, crossing all my fingers that one of them pops up within my budget sometime soon. Even better – if I can find a personalized version with a shoulder strap (if you happen to come across any, do let me know)!
In fact, Balenciaga’s range of distressed-chic Motorcycle purses has carved a special niche in an already distinguished it-bag hall of fame. But what is it about them that made them so notoriously popular? Do their fans continue to cherish their (usually expansive) collections two decades after their launch?
A Legendary It-Bag
Well, that ties in with a more central question of what constitutes the making of an It-bag itself. It’s something we’ve dwelt on quite often here at PurseBlog, but not perhaps found a very definitive answer to yet. For an It-bag to actually be it, it has got to be different from anything else currently offered. Its X-factor lies in the fact that it’s completely unlike the rest! And like the Prada Nylon, the Fendi Baguette, or the Dior Saddle which came before, the original Balenciaga Lariat (or the Motorcycle, or the Le Dix) delivered effortlessly in this regard. Featuring gorgeous soft leather, loads of tassels, and a generous sprinkling of studs, the collection was so unlike the norm of all luxury leather purses being prim and structured that even Balenciaga’s board of directors wasn’t convinced about the bag’s future.
It was only upon the initiative of Creative Director Nicolas Ghèsquiere and supermodel Kate Moss who happened to be at the Balenciaga show and requested a piece from Ghèsquiere himself, that the bag’s potential became apparent. And soon, it was seen in the hands of some of the most influential members of the fashion set, from Carine Roitfeld and Emmanuelle Alt of Vogue Paris to stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé and Nicole Richie, who purportedly owned one in every color of the rainbow. The rest, as we know very well by now, is history.
The Age of Revivals
But that was during the era of it-bags and, as fondly remembered as it was, we like to believe that we have evolved. Since then, not only have we overcome a recession, a pandemic, a Kardashian takeover of everything hype-worthy, AND a Britney Spears wedding, but we’ve also jumped multiple aesthetics and sizes – from the extremely large to the ridiculously small. And perhaps to the chagrin of the luxury brands themselves, our trendiest purses no longer span millions in waitlists and drive fans to various states of frenzy.
Interestingly enough, though, now we are also entering an era of revivals, and many styles from the early aughts have returned with a vengeance. From Carrie Bradshaw’s Fendi Baguette (and a return of Mrs. Bradshaw herself to the silver screen) to the Prada Re-Edition and the Gucci Diana, it appears as if taking cues from a brand’s archives is the way forward, and everything old has become hip again. Add to that the boom of the resale industry, and we reach the point where the new and the vintage co-exist in the market.
But what does it take to call a particular purse an archival revival? Obviously, it had to be in the brand’s line-up at some point. Regarding revivals, age is just a number, with roughly 20-ish-year-old purses often qualifying and older ones too.
But aside from age, what other forces determine which pieces from a brand’s history get relaunched? Does it have to be something that was massively popular back in its heyday, or does just “moderately well-known” work as long as it preserves the house codes? After all, lesser popular styles from the past might have better chances of faring well now, given the huge amount of marketing tactics currently available at a brand’s disposal. Plus, as everybody tries to jump onto the bandwagon of Y2K trends, a style that might have otherwise been considered dated might become a cash cow for a fashion house.
Most importantly, though, for a launch to be a “revival,” isn’t it necessary that the designer must preserve the original design of the purse? There might be newer sizes added to the line-up as mini bags more or less have become a fashion staple, but one might expect that the brand would at least retain the original aesthetic, right?
The Revival of the Moto Bag?
To pick up where we left off in our conversation on the history of the BBag, while its demand continually grew throughout the 2000s, its cult status waned post-recession. At the same time, though, it never really went away, like its other it-bag counterparts from Dior or Fendi did. Despite buyers unanimously opining that the leather quality had changed, especially after Ghèsquiere’s departure, the Balenciaga City, the most popular silhouette from the Motorcycle range, remained the house’s bestselling product for a long-time, and its creators were unwilling to discontinue and risk losses. However, things were about to change with Demna Gvaslia’s entrance into Balenciaga as Creative Director.
The new designer’s approach to the brand didn’t instantly focus on the handbags. Rather, Gvaslia popularised the brand’s RTW, with its iconic puffer jackets gaining recognition on Kanye West’s, um, torso. At the same time, the quirky, streetwear-influenced footwear too became a widely-discussed (and sometimes controversial) staple among the fashion crowd. Only gradually did he graduate to accessories, launching the Hourglass and Ville handbags. But it wasn’t until 2020 that the designer’s first major archival inspiration come through – the Neo Classic.
If the original Balenciaga Moto bags were meant for the Olsens in their NYU years, the Neo Classic is for the Olsens who’ve grown up to be corporate businesswomen – in other words, it was a structured & matured take on the OG City. Coming in various sizes, from on-trend micros to fit-everything-but-the-sink maxi versions, and in fun colors, it preserved much of the elements of the Motorcycle bag. Still, it presented it in a package that seemed entirely different. So, can a grown-up version of the original be considered a revival? Honestly, I’m leaning towards a no.
The Significance of the Le Cagole Range
Launched for Pre-Fall 2021, the Neo Cagole was another take on the City by Gvaslia. Using a softer silhouette of the Neo Classic, I might have gone as far as to consider it a revival of the Moto bag… had it not been swathed in a sea of studs. The name Cagole refers to someone who’s showy or over the top (or provocative), and the Neo Cagole takes this so; literally, it’s downright creepy.
But another silhouette launched in this collection is the Le Cagole shoulder bag, and I daresay it’s the closest thing Balenciaga has come to perfection after the original Moto bag. Why?
Well, we’ve seen a slew of revivals in the fashion industry as of late, and an overwhelming majority of them have been concentrated in the half-moon/mini hobo/baguette-shaped shoulder bag style. And thanks to Instagram, I have begun to admire the silhouette now that I’ve been exposed to enough of them (apparently, that’s a real thing). But the Le Cagole is something that genuinely executes the look with a lot of ease.
Yes, this too has the same over-the-top grunginess of the Neo Cagole. But in a smaller, croissant-shaped silhouette, with a heart-shaped mirror and a thick braided strap to boot, it feels like a fresher update on the Moto bag. Truth be told, the Le Cagole looks like a vintage purse that perhaps should have been released alongside the original, and for a revival, I guess that’s the highest compliment there could be. No wonder everybody from Bella Hadid to Alexa Demie and Dua Lipa loves the style, and its campaign featured Kim Kardashian, too (I did warn you)!
Now, as you might have guessed, I’m still hopelessly hung on the OG moto bags (and am currently on an eBay routine to find one – someone, please gift me one!), and like the millions of Bal-lovers who’ve begun a feverish search for the purses all over the resale market, I’m pretty sure nothing would ever beat the original, even though Balenciaga itself hasn’t discontinued the style. But if you do happen to count yourself among the lucky crowd who can boast a collection of the originals and are looking for a younger, quirkier, and trendier iteration, the Le Cagole is definitely worth a shot. Perhaps a decade or two from now, it might be remembered just as fondly for its true-to-its-roots design as the classic Motorcycle bags are now and may even become collectors-worthy pieces like the rarer versions of the original (the metallic Le Cagoles look absolutely delightful)! I’d even go as far as to say that it might be Demna Gvaslia’s most iconic design, aside from the massively popular Hourglass. Together, these two bags have undoubtedly put Balenciaga back on fashionistas’ radars, a comeback most brands can only dream of.