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The new Balenciaga campaign features Kim Kardashian wearing all black with a neon handbag at her side.
Make no mistake, this photo is designed to sell us that bag. Somewhat the shoes. But really, it’s forcing Balenciaga designer Demna Gvsalia’s garish take on nostalgia — rendered in a color you’ve not worn since 2012, masquerading as a utilitarian “must have” — right down our throats. Why else would they wipe the Balenciaga Instagram feed just to post this? Because they believe this bag is worthy of feed wiping. They want us to see it and never unsee it for the rest of our lives. And on that front, I think it’s working.
This bag stands out in a very aughts way. In the pandemic we’ve been rather post-purse. Sure, Chanel has been raising handbag prices with downright abandon, but that could be in effort to beat the post-pandemic “I’M OUT FOR GOOD NOW! LOOK AT ME!!!” fashion rush we may be about to enter. No one needs a new It bag when they’re at home watching Emily in Paris. But with the pandemic hopefully easing and we purse owners perhaps on the verge of a more public existence (look out, world), it’s time to excavate the things in our wardrobe that have been fossilizing for the last two years. Such as the bags in which you really wouldn’t want your hand sanitizer to have an accident.
If the marketing geniuses at Balenciaga get their way, your hand sanitizer did have an accident, and you feel like you need to acquire a new bag, specifically this Le Cagole, specifically for its apparent It-ness. The XS iteration costs $2,100, appealing to those for whom Chanel and Hermès are out of reach. Maybe you’ll justify it. Well, I haven’t bought a shift dress for work in how long? You’ll say to yourself. That’s right, responds the region of your brain that remembers shopping in 2005. Spend ten shift dresses’ worth on a BAG!
Barely fitting more than an iPhone, this bag does not strike me as shift dress adjacent, but rather more of a bag that goes out at night for a $16 espresso martini. (The larger $2,350 style doesn’t look that much bigger.) This is the essence of its It-ness: it is a bag one has for no other reason than onlookers knowing one has this particular bag. (The definition of an It bag is subjective; Plum Sykes once wrote in Vogue that it is defined by scarcity, meaning a bag “is an It bag only if you’re unlikely to possess it.” But I think it connotes trendiness, too.)
Maybe I’m just a boring old millennial who prefers to wear minimal clothing that is unidentifiable when out in the wild, but I found this bag instantly disturbing. Despite my personal style, I can appreciate identifiable, logo-stamped fashion, along with instantly identifiable classics. But a Kelly or a Birkin, this bag is not. It is like a popping video: though repulsed, I cannot stop looking. A new tacky detail comes to the fore upon each inspection. The neon. The studs. The pleats. The braided leather strap. The buckles (count them). And, perhaps most distressing of all, the charms. Plural charms.
Here is how Vogue.com described Le Cagole in an article with a headline that, like this bag, could have come straight out of 2003: “Balenciaga Has a Brand New, Celeb-Approved It Bag.” (Bear in mind Vogue gets a kick back from sales of the bag made through a Vogue.com referral.)
It’s a rounded version of the Balenciaga Motorcycle Bag that reminds us of a perky croissant studded with buckles, tassels, and a sassy little mirror in the shape of a heart. While black seems to be the go-to color, it comes in a rainbow of pastel hues and metallic shades, and three sizes.
The Le Cagole is a bag people like me once bought at Wet Seal for $14.99, and carried around the mall until the vinyl siding started peeling. So, about five different Saturdays. We once coveted It bags they were knocking off because we saw them on celebrities who “stepped out” for paparazzi and made it to the opening pages of Us Weekly. These bags were catnip to Youngs dreaming of big city living — that of Carrie Bradshaw — with not the faintest idea of how they would ever get a real It bag themselves. Balenciaga is thus offering people like me the chance to return to a childlike state, and young people like Dua Lipa, who have been seen in paparazzi shots with the bag, the chance to experience that period for the first time. (It wasn’t that great, young people: we had eight years of George W. Bush!)
Judging by the Urban Dictionary definition of “cagole,” I’d say Balenciaga knows exactly what they’re doing. They may even be laughing at how they’re taking advantage of our desperation for a post-pandemic world full of It bags and the It girls who carry them with this tacky, unmistakable, bizarrely covetable purse. Irony has always been Demna’s thing, and he arguably executes it better than anybody these days.
Like it or not, we’re probably entering another It bag era, the way earth is cyclically subjected to ice ages. Bags drive the luxury fashion business, putting pressure on designers to regularly churn out best sellers. As Marc Jacobs once said, “Any woman can wear shoes and handbags: It's not a question of how tall you are, how skinny you are, how blonde or blue-eyed or tanned or whatever. So it's logical that more women can embrace the notion of a handbag than a fitted rubber dress with zips up the back." But crucially, I think the pandemic has dressed us all down for good, meaning that bags will take on renewed significance in our post-pandemic wardrobes.
There is perhaps an upside to this. Expensive bags tend not to be as frivolously purchased as cheap clothing, which is destroying our planet. But It bags also connote conspicuous consumption, which does lead to frivolous, planet-destroying purchases. I think this is why I’m unsettled by this effectively marketed bag, being pushed by Queen Kim herself. A bag with enough hardware to remodel a kitchen that comes in neon of all colors is for people ready to step out into the world like the celebrities of yore, wearing a bunch of new stuff along with ye olde corded headphones. Perhaps next season they will attach an additional pouch on the outside, just for those. Apologies in advance for the nightmares.
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I hate it so much. And that heart-shaped mirror. The moto bag also just so does not fit the look of Balenciaga's clothes anymore. It's soooooo dated in a VERY BAD, TRAGIC way. But what does it even mean to "like" fashion anymore? I've lost the will to care. Is this just a product of age (and an ill-spent first career in the industry)?
Yes, it looks like a bag from the Juniors Department in the neon, I like it better on Dua Lipa in the black. Out in the wilds of Suburbia, where I'm in retail, it's all about Saint Laurent, even more reasonable than Balenciaga. I'm not sure if it's celeb adjacent, and it's a bit more conservative, but that's suburbia!