Dear reader, can we collectively agree to retire the term cult classic? And if not, we need to decide, at the very least, what it actually means. Is it meant to induce a perfunctory cult-following, soon to be relegated to your nearest discount outlet? Or does it refer to the staying power of a classic?
Surely, it would be ridiculous for both to apply. After all, how can the wardrobe staples of today end up at Goodwill tomorrow (*conveniently forgets Juicy Couture*) (*feigns surprise*)? And it also goes without saying how wildly inappropriate it would be to describe a new release that, for the purposes of semantics, hasn’t acquired a cult to begin with! One might even make a case for how, with the recent democratization of high fashion, achieving the frenzy akin to a Chloé Paddington or Luella Gisele of the early aughts is not realistic now. However, that’s probably a debate for another day.
Nevertheless, I do not get to make the rules. Consequently, microscopic Louis Vuitton Onthegos continue to sell for offensively high prices, backed by its own minions denouncing the function in fashion! But do you know who did manage to cultivate a cult status that perseveres well into the modern day? Well, Marc Jacobs, of course!
A Hit Among Many Misses
Marc Jacobs and the Y2K was a match made in fashion heaven, the stuff of legends that continue to be handed down for generations. Whether it be his quintessentially cool Marc by Marc Jacobs line, the perennially punk Stam bag, or his fashion-forward collabs for Louis Vuitton, Jacobs remains a revered name in the realm of luxuries.
However, since he departed from the LVMH Maison, Jacobs has struggled to find his footing in the industry. In a surprise move in 2015, the MbMJ line was discontinued, even though British designers Katie Hillier and Luella Bartley were recruited to revamp the brand only a year prior. His brand underwent several consolidations and administrative shifts, and he famously refused to succumb to the many whims of the Gen-Z. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Jacobs created some of his most practical, if not entirely distinctive, styles in this period, such as the Editor tote, the Director tote, the Snapshot, and the Pillow Bag (which many accredit as the first in the trend!).
But with the possible exception of the Snapshot, few managed to leave their mark among purse-lovers. Consequently, the brand went largely under the radar. Or so it seemed until fast-forward to 2021, the Marc Jacobs Tote Bag was seemingly everywhere!
Yet Another Tote Bag?
Compared to most of Jacobs’ past offerings, the success of The Tote Bag seems rather puzzling. Not too different, on a spiritual level, from your average hulking-haulers emblazoned with Fendi, Gucci, or Christian Dior, the design of the Tote is, for all intents and purposes, rather basic. But then, one shouldn’t go seeking the profound within the material. Jacobs’ genius, however, lies not in the construction of the carryall itself but in its tongue-in-cheek christening as The Tote Bag, printed in bold, contrasting letters against a mostly undulating surface. It adds an element of irony that isn’t lost upon its fans, reminiscent of the Gone Girl quote: “Like in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn’s cat was named Cat.”
Launched in 2019, the Tote was originally named The Traveler Tote and likely drew inspiration from Chanel’s luxe Deauville Tote. With its much more affordable price point (ranging between $175-$695) and the burgeoning trend of year-round cottagecore canvas totes, however, the Tote Bag went on to have a trajectory perhaps Jacobs himself hadn’t imagined, selling 100,000 copies in its very first year!
And since its debut, its many colorways and fabrications (from the original canvas and, shortly thereafter, leather to terry-cloth, shearling, raffia, and denim) have made their way across the streets, into offices, and onto fashion editorials. Its array of sizes is also one of the most generous, encompassing both Micro and Mini and Large and XL variations, so you have something for both your lip-gloss and a cross-country trip. And unlike most schleppers of today, it features a zip-closure too – a dealbreaker for many.
Cult? Check. Classic? Check.
Hence, despite my general aversion towards the term, I feel like Jacobs is really onto something with the Tote Bag. And by something, I mean it may just have a true cult classic in its hands (yes, I realize now I’m part of the problem).
Upon launch, its appeal was limited to a certain niche, where Y2K logomania met utilitarian minimalism (and if you can look past the logo, it is quite the minimalist piece). But the biggest impetus for its growth was the unlikely instance of COVID, requiring us to stow away our precious leather babies in favor of wipe-friendly alternatives. And Jacobs, with his expansive lineup of Totes (limited editions included Snoopy and Peanuts collabs, too!), all underpinned by their sheer practicality, was ready to take this pandemic head-on. Sure, some of them accumulate lint, while others are prone to staining. At the same time, its far more forgiving price point, unlike some of its high-fashion counterparts (with frequent sales for its seasonal releases), simply makes the deal so much sweeter!
Of course, it’s no Birkin (or, as of late, a Neverfull). But perhaps that’s by design; there are very few instances when the manufacturing cost justifies the final price of a purse, and this one hits it pretty close. And thanks to its medley of aesthetics and versatility, it has managed to amass a certain segment of stylish New Yorkers who swear by it, and if that’s not the perfect definition of a cult classic, I don’t know what is!