Is there a deeper meaning here?
When I'm selecting a new purse, I try to invest in versatile and classic pieces. But the serious handbag collector in me frequently clashes with the side of me that appreciates the zanier impulses of the fashion industry. Given my penchant for the surreal, it’s no surprise that the Mickey Mouse head handbag from Gucci’s Spring 2019 collection caught my eye. The questions this bag raises are alarming: did someone decapitate Mickey Mouse? Is there a deeper meaning here? Is fashion over now? And most importantly, do I kind of actually want this bag?!
When asked to explain himself, Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele claimed that with the collection, “I am reconnecting culture and popular culture.” It’s easy to laugh at the designer who puts out a Mickey Mouse head purse into the world and calls it art, but Michele actually managed to sum up why I am so drawn to so-called novelty fashion items. Yes, they are silly, but they also often make a deeper statement about the world we live in. In this case the juxtaposition of highbrow and lowbrow culture in an attempt to challenge our perceptions of what luxury fashion is and who it’s for.
The aesthetic of the novelty bags I love calls to mind the pop art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, who made their names on challenging traditional notions of art by interpreting elements of mass culture in a new context. But while pop art was meant to parody and critique mass production and commercialism, fashion’s recent forays into this realm seem a little disingenuous given fashion’s dependence on popular culture and commercialism. Designers may think they’re slyly parodying themselves, but it sort of feels like the joke is on them, and on us as consumers.
One of my all-time favorite novelty purses that I somehow stopped myself from buying was Moschino’s infamous pill bottle purse. It was surprising, bold, and super weird, which are all things I love in a bag. I also nearly pulled the trigger on Moschino’s garbage can purse, the motorcycle jacket purse, and pretty much any other novelty Moschino item you can imagine. At this point even I have to admit that Moschino’s whole thing is getting a bit tired. However, it’s also everywhere, with major designers taking “lowbrow,” everyday items like Ikea bags, Crocs, Mickey Mouse’s head, lighters, and anything else you can think of, and making it high fashion. Brands like Vetements have built empires around this aesthetic, and while I get the joke, it’s becoming less novel with every season that passes. Selling a Mickey Mouse head for thousands of dollars now seems more like out of touch trolling than a sly commentary on art and culture.
Not to mention, a novelty bag is a bit of a gamble if you’re buying it as an investment. Of course there is always a risk if you stray from the beaten path of a Birkin, a 2.55, or a Neverfull. But on the off chance you’re planning to net a profit off a bag that looks like an actual trash can, I’d advise you to temper your expectations. Some of these bags may become infamous, but they will probably not age well. Of course, there are notable exceptions to this rule—Judith Leiber being one that stands out: Leiber clutches covered in Austrian crystals and shaped like hamburgers and boom boxes retail for $6,000 and have come to be regarded as art. The difference here, of course, is that Leiber’s pieces are extremely well made and have a long history of being carried by First Ladies and Carrie from Sex and the City. Chanel’s beaded Dare to Disturb bag also has a decent resale value—so far—but again, it’s all about the brand and the craftsmanship.
You probably shouldn’t buy a novelty purse as an investment, and you might find that the joke wears thin quickly. But if you love the piece and want to express yourself by carrying around a trash can on your shoulder, I say go for it. Despite my misgivings, I still love the novelty purses that the industry will certainly churn out for years to come. They may not be a great investment, and people may look at me funny as I walk down the street carrying a purse that looks like a lunch bag, but fashion is supposed to be outrageous and challenging. I just hope Mickey Mouse is OK.
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