Two bags are currently stirring up the waters of the fashion world, blurring the lines between the ordinary and the ultraluxe: the Balenciaga Blanket bag, whose name speaks for itself, and the Balenciaga Arena extra-large shopper tote, also known as the Ikea bag’s doppelgänger.
Despite the hefty price-tag on these bags, and other Balenciaga bags that seem a bit ahead of their time, fans –celebrity or otherwise– are adopting these styles into their everyday wear. So what exactly are Balenciaga bags offering to make people want to add these unconventional pieces to their collection?
Balenciaga as a Historical Game Changer
If we’re going to talk about how these Balenciaga bags are making waves in 2017, it’s important to first glance back at the brand’s past to really get the full picture.
Cristóbal Balenciaga was an enigma– but he knew women’s bodies, how to dress them, and, most importantly, how to get people talking. Despite the fact that he only gave one interview in his life, and refused to make appearances at his shows, the Balenciaga brand enamored women across the world and changed the face of fashion.
Styles from Balenciaga shifted trends away from Dior’s “New Look” of the 1940’s and ’50s and steered fashion in the direction of flowy or boxy feminine silhouettes. Since the debut of Dior’s “New Look,” women’s fashion had been dominated by cinched in waists, exaggerated shoulders, and conservative hemlines. Balenciaga’s shift in design brought the babydoll, the cocoon coat, the ballon skirt, and the sack dress –all notably loose styles– into vogue. These styles changed the way women dressed completely and created a spotlight of attention on the much-desired brand.
Though modern-day Balenciaga is a departure from the original vibe of the brand, the essentials have remained the same: the clothing is often loose fitting and contain exaggerated details, like the sleeves on the 1951 design you can see below or in this evening cape and dress design from 1950. And people are still talking about the modern versions of these styles to this day.
Perhaps one of the most forward-thinking aspects of Balenciaga and his designs was the fact that he created to style every woman, not just the waify models that many fashion houses seemed to create clothing for. He was even quoted saying: “A woman has no need to be perfect or even beautiful to wear my dresses. The dress will do all that for her. ”
Despite the massive success of the brand, Balenciaga suddenly closed its doors in 1968 and only reopened in 1986, a dismal sixteen years after Cristóbal Balenciaga’s death in 1972.
These New Balenciaga Bags Fit Right In
Since then, Alexander Wang led the company for 3 years following Nicolas Ghesquière’s departure from Balenciaga after a 15 year tenure. In late 2016, the company changed hands again and, now, Demna Gvasalia is at the helm of Balenciaga’s creative direction. Though Gvasalia is also the head designer of Vetements, his work with Balenciaga is already shaping up to be revolutionary. Arguably, through Gvasalia and Wang’s more recent work, the essence of Balenciaga has been modernized into styles that are making everyone talk once again.
Aside from the sock-boot-pants kerfuffle we previously blogged about, Balenciaga’s most eye-catching designs are currently coming from their line of bags. This is where Balenciaga’s penchant for creating designs and bags that become phenomenons comes into play.
The Balenciaga Bag of the Moment: the Blanket Bag
At first glance, you may think that this is simply a pretty floral comforter that someone just picked up at the store, still encased in its plastic bag. Instead, this Balenciaga bag will set you back over 2k and only resembles the run-of-the-mill comforter bag– no blanket included.
Some have pointed out that the floral design of this bag is especially notable since it resembles kambal blankets, which also often come in clear plastic bags that showcase the design and have a strip with the brand’s name on a corner of the bag.
The Arena Extra Large Shopper Tote The Balenciaga “Ikea” Bag
Over the past week, news outlets have latched onto the Balenciaga “Ikea” bag as if it were a sign that the end of fashion is near. However, we see it a little differently.
Both of these bags, we argue, aren’t necessarily meant to be a groundbreaking statement in construction and beauty. Instead, they showcase our cultural appreciation for the ironic, the branding, the functionality, and the attention garnered when such a bag is worn.
After the striking similarities were pointed out, Ikea publicly commented that “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!”
The Psyche of Balenciaga Bags
These two designs have created two distinct camps: those who love it and those who hate it. The grumblings coming from the people who believe these bags are a sign of the end of fashion seem to take over Instagram feeds that feature bags like the Blanket or Ikea bag, yet people are still buying into these trends.
Psychology points to the fact that humans seek novelty and anything else that is both entertaining and offers ego-boosts in the form of double-takes, complements, or attention of any sort.
Whether we know this about ourselves consciously or not, people love wealth indicators and wearing things that make them feel beautiful, accomplished, or cool. Bags like these have the same intonations of success as brands like Chanel, but they also have personality built into their design. Whenever someone sees a Balenciaga Blanket or Arena Shopper bag, it’s likely that they’ll do a double-take due to the novelty of a luxury brand putting out a design like that. This reinforces the wearer’s status and the interest of the new viewer– and psychology shows that this novelty is a good way to get people to aspire to a certain lifestyle.
The designs of the Balenciaga Blanket bag and the Arena Shopper (Ikea) bag both do something incredible: they take the ordinary and put an ironic, ultraluxe spin on it. After all, what else makes a 99 cent Ikea bag worth 2k aside from better materials and the brand name attached to it. The same goes for the Blanket bag, which almost satirizes the idea of a blanket bag actually being something carried around as if it was a fashion statement. And that idea, in itself, makes these bags statement-worthy.
Much like Andy Warhol took the unremarkable Campbells soup can and turned it into a piece of art, these Balenciaga pieces seem to be inspired by pop-art. Appropriating from everyday, normal items, these bags exaggerate what it means to be stylish while offering the functionality brought about by the items they drew inspiration from.
Photo of Balenciaga’s 1951 coat from Bianca Lee via Flickr.