Between the literal toilet roll bags sent down the runway by Moschino at Milan Fashion Week earlier this year and Balenciaga’s ‘doona bag’ which resembles, well, a doona in a plastic coating, it would be rather easy to say that fashion has gone too far.
Add in Balenciaga’s latest bag, a blue ‘Arena Extra-Large Shopper Tote’ that internet commenters have accurately noted looks exactly like the IKEA bag you schlep your laundry around in, we could say that we just don’t get it. Did I mention that the IKEA bag, made from “blue wrinkled, glazed” leather retails for around $2700?
But maybe we’re not meant to get it, or maybe (just maybe) there’s something more going on.
The bag, along with the blanket bag before it, is the work of designer Demna Gvasalia, the man who (along with other members of the ‘creative collective’ that is his label Vetements) made the fashion world want to spend hundreds of dollars on a ‘DHL’ T-shirt. You know, the kind that delivery guys wear. And reworked Levi’s jeans that cost more than $1000, and sweaters with two openings.
Gvasalia was named the creative director of Balenciaga after Alexander Wang stepped down.
Vetements has been on street style stars, covered in Vogue and is stocked in high-end retailers around the world and the likes of Net-a-Porter.
It is fashion, for people in the know, but it’s kind of anti-fashion, too.
As Leandra Medine wrote for Man Repeller on not ‘getting’ the hype around Vetements,
“[Vetements] functions as a deeply reactive entity that rejects the ateliers of Paris with their fanciful ideas of what women should look like and responds instead to what a new generation of women already do look like.”
Or as Nicola Fumo wrote in Racked, “I do understand the human desire to be part of a tribe, to be recognised by a certain group, but at the expense of a hoodie that could also pay a month’s rent in New York City? I dunno, man.”
So what are these super luxurious items that look like bog ordinary household items telling us? Is it commentary on the way we live now? Is the joke on the people that buy them, that they are consuming whatever is “cool” blindly and without individuality or style (style being separate from trends)?
Maybe all of the above, maybe not. Taste is subjective and all.
And it might be more than that, too. As Connie Wang noted when she first saw the Balenciaga doona bags on the runway, she sent a photo of them to her immigrant parents. They looked just like the doonas that she had grown up with, cheap and able to keep you warm.
“Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia is an immigrant himself, and for him to find comfort and symbolism in this particular style is something that I intrinsically get,” she noted, of her initial discomfort and then recognition in seeing an element of her childhood, her history in an entirely different context.
“[L]ike many people who came from Asia, Eastern Europe, or grew up in immigrant communities, those fleece blankets are as much a part of our outsider stories as getting teased for our bag lunches or feeling embarrassed about having to ask our friends to take their shoes off before coming inside our homes,” she wrote.
Fashion can be and has been political, it can be a way that we see the world. Especially in these uncertain times.
Or maybe we need these jolts from the fashion world every now and then.
Remember when Jil Sander sent brown paper lunch bags down the runway in 2012? Perhaps a piece that reaches the masses, even only in order for it to be mocked, is a chance to have a pause, take stock, and think about whether we are consuming fashion, or if fashion is consuming us.
Meanwhile, IKEA told Today that they’re quite pleased about Balenciaga’s new bag (which made its debut on the runway at Men’s Sprin 2017 show earlier this year and is available to buy now). “We are deeply flattered that the Balenciaga tote bag resembles the IKEA iconic sustainable blue bag for 99 cents. Nothing beats the versatility of a great big blue bag!”
So there’s that possibility, too. Plus, there’s beauty in the ordinary. But maybe sometimes it’s just open to interpretation, and that’s something great about fashion.