A new wave of New York City-based independent designs is helping to drive handbag trends across the U.S. Many young fashion-forward shoppers are looking to mark their outfits with a niche calling card that connects them to a larger movement, design personality or aesthetic. While in pre-pandemic years that often meant a shoe or T-shirt, the bag is again coming into the spotlight as a preeminent signifier of taste.
Following the immense success of Telfar’s handbags, there is a fresh, full spectrum of styles that speak to niche fashion inclinations and youth culture. Luar’s new top-handle Ana bag; Brandon Blackwood’s wide range of colorful carry-alls; Puppets and Puppets’ clever lady bag affixed with a resin cookie; Coming of Age, also known as COA, has functional totes made from prim satins; Vaquera’s approaching launch into handbags inspired by musical instruments, and SC103’s leather link totes are among the new, under-$500 styles that shoppers are gravitating toward.
Amanda Lurie, the Brooklyn-based designer behind COA and buzzy new Williamsburg boutique Tangerine, has an inkling that the move back toward bags has something to do with how young people are dressing in the wake of work-from-home culture.
Her line of silk gingham bags in practical, carry-all shapes blur the line between what’s casual and fussy — a kind of tension that, stylistically speaking, can be a signature of New York City’s more artful types.
“People are buying bags and I think personally it’s because they are dressing more casual and comfortable. They wear sneakers and Birkenstocks or an easy shoe like flip-flops with a tank top and jeans, so a statement bag is what people are spending more money on right now. Now when someone is wearing a bag, my eye goes there,” said Lurie, whose designs all retail for under $350.
Luar designer Raul Lopez introduced the new Ana bag design at his label’s spring 2022 runway show and launched it on his website in October. Within a few months it became a type of calling card for many at the intersection of art and fashion — spotted by the fistful at December’s Art Basel Miami.
“I think bags are a new way of dressing up,” Lopez said of the category. “A lot of men and women have taken the whole shoe thing of dressing up or down with shoes and carried that over to a bag. A bag just replaced that — now I can wear a bag with everything and dress myself up and have fun.”
Lopez felt this was the moment to jump into the handbag category, sensing that women were about to start reallocating their shopping budgets from “It” shoes toward handbags once pandemic restrictions lifted. According to a study issued by the NPD Group, that’s exactly what’s happening — particularly with small crossbody styles like Luar’s new Ana.
While Brandon Blackwood continues to grow his own business after selling more than a half a million bags over two years, SC103 is finding it hard to keep its signature leather link totes in stock at stores like Tangerine, Stand Up Comedy and Nordstrom. Vaquera is launching a line of bags inspired by music instrument cases as part of its spring 2022 line, and Puppets and Puppets is pushing forward with its humorous, somewhat surrealist approach to handbag design.
Puppets designer Carly Mark launched the brand’s first bag — a squat top-handle style with a resin chocolate chip cookie attached at the front — on Ssense in the middle of the pandemic. They sold out within weeks.
“During the pandemic, I think people felt propelled to support independent designers and stores. There was this push to support community,” she said. “I come from an art background so I think [our bag consumers] in general are creative people that like humor and aren’t afraid to show that in their day-to-day outfits.”
While the cookie bag was in early development in the months leading up to the pandemic, the lockdown experience solidified Mark’s intuition that independent bag designs would become more important in the coming seasons.
“I think I had noticed it because of Telfar, he really started it,” she said. “Seeing an independent designer making a bag at a good price point and how exciting that is for the community that loves and follows a brand makes so much sense.”