With the continuous barrage of show-stopping extravaganzas during Fashion Month, along with the fanfare of product launches, collaborations, and limited-edition capsules between seasons, brands are under increasing pressure to make a statement with more than just their designs. In the world of luxury bags, this has led to designers increasingly relying on quirky gimmicks and gasp-inducing features to ensure their latest handbag designs make the most noise.
Designers have long used fashion shows to make bold style statements in notoriously avant-grade ways, showcasing shocking new trends and concepts and making for some truly exceptional moments in fashion. Think a robot spray painting model Shalom Harlow’s dress on Alexander McQueen’s runway or South Sudanese-British model Alek Wek throwing off the blonde wig she has been styled with in protest of Eurocentric beauty standards at a Betsey Johnson show. But now, bags are part of this statement-making action more than ever. And not just on the runway.
The concept of labels making a statement is at an all-time high thanks to new and innovative ways for brands to release designs and for us to consume fashion news and products. And this is largely influenced by social media and the rapidly changing industry.
From Balenciaga’s Speaker bag to the Coperni’s glass iteration of its popular Swipe style, are we entering the era of the handbag statement? And what does this mean for the sector of fashion we hold so dear?
The Evolution Of Handbag Launches
The concept of the handbag statement has its roots in the evolution of bag launches. Once upon a time, bags would simply appear on runways and in ad campaigns starring celebrities. Perhaps a few would be gifted to the A-listers of the day, with the resulting paparazzi pictures leading to an increase in exposure and likely the popularity of a style.
But now, it seems any new handbag launch requires a perfectly executed campaign across all platforms imaginable. Brands are battling it out against one another for relevancy and clicks on social media. This directly fuels the need for the handbag statement.
Balenciaga made fashion headlines when it debuted the Speaker bag at its Fall/Winter 2022 Haute Couture show in Paris. Launched in collaboration with audio industry experts Bang & Olufsen, the hard-shell top handle design houses a wireless speaker unit inside – essentially doubling as a handheld accessory and a sure-fire way to get any party started. The unconventional style quickly made the rounds on social media and was spotted on the arms of stars, including Christine Quinn.
More than simply launching a bag, Balenciaga managed to create a story and generate a discussion with its style that fused fashion with technology. But, it seems like conceptualizing a handbag-speaker hybrid was never really the intention. Only 20 of the bags were ever made and aside from a slew of snazzy campaign shots on various Instagram feeds, little has been seen of the bag since.
Balenciaga’s launch of its Speaker bag perfectly encapsulates the concept of the handbag statement and how it’s more about making a statement than it is about any handbag.
The Impact Of Social Media
Going viral on social media is a weird and (at times) wonderful experience. Still, we often associate the concept with catchy sound bites and dances, with many aspiring influencers desperately trying to make it big on platforms. But have fashion brands fallen prey to the desire of virality too? And is this a bad thing?
Last year, Burberry sent its Olympia bag down London’s Thames on a branded boat. The huge stunt saw the upscaled version of the popular design plastered all over social media.
The need to create buzz-worthy moments is nothing new for fashion brands. But what is new is labels utilizing the tool of social media to help generate and publicize these, dare we say, Instagrammable moments. And bags offer a great way for designers to do just this, thanks to their impressive earning potential and tendency to garner cult followings.
Statement Over Function?
Fashion’s slew of so-called handbag statements in recent seasons have all prioritized shock factors, with functionality often on the back burner. But this is no truer for a style than Coperni’s glass Swipe bag.
When model Gigi Hadid walked the Parisian label’s Fall/Winter 2022 runway carrying a glass iteration of its coveted Swipe style, it sent the fashion press and avid fans alike into overdrive. Coverage explaining the details of its unique design and memes about the style’s lacking practicality popped up everywhere online.
While it’s hard to imagine a busy fashionista reaching for this part-handbag, part-vase creation as they rush out the door, the style was lauded as an unlikely ‘It’ bag and helped level up Coperni’s reputation in the eyes of the fashion elite. Moreover, the glass Swipe bag appears more than a quirky gimmick from the brand and has garnered mentions in style guides and on social media long after the initial buzz has quieted down.
This leads to the question – is the rise of the handbag statement leading designers to prioritize making a statement and inducing shock over creating functional designs that people will actually want to carry in the real world?
Fashion is ever-changing. And the way handbags are designed and released will continue to change with it. While we’re excited to witness the industry’s next handbag spectacle, we hope designers hold onto what’s behind the statement.