Thursday, February 5, 2009

The It bag is over. Cue the hit shoe

By Suzy Menkes, International Herald Tribune

Balenciaga shoes,

PARIS: Like an attention-grabbing wild child who finally grew up, the handbag has resumed its former role as a polite appendage to the family of fashion.

After its decade in the limelight, the It bag is finally over. That does not mean that purses, holdalls and totes are finished. How could we live without them? But that the focus is on other accessories: designer jewelry, broad bangles, wide belts and madly creative shoes.

The bag is now blending with an outfit as though it no longer wants to show off its voluptuous shape, rattle its heavy metal chains, or be a one-season wonder that is then auctioned on eBay to pay for the next hot design.

The deflation of the bag's status is partly from fashion fatigue. When a Victoria Beckham, a Paris Hilton or any reed-thin Hollywood star wears a uniform of skinny jeans and sexy top, jazzed up with a vast bag, there has to be change to entice customers to buy.

Judging by the designer offerings displayed in post-sale shop windows, shoes are out to steal the limelight, with mighty platforms, carved heels, cages of straps and all sorts of decoration, from feathers to beading.

Since the "model wobble" was a feature of the recent runways, the concept of "falling for" a pair of these pricey pieces is going to take on a whole new meaning. Yet, to some extent, the It shoe makes sense, in that it is a rare piece of footwear that survives the assaults of uneven sidewalks, heel-trapping grids and wet weather. Only flats - and they are the least fancy styles on offer - tend to linger in the closet.

A bag can give lasting pleasure, maybe even be passed down from mother to daughter, as were the Herm├Ęs Kelly, Chanel's classic quilted purse or even - in the pre-Tom-Ford era - Gucci's bar-and-bit bags.

Inevitably, classicism is on the way back in a jittery financial climate that is encouraging customers to look for lasting value. So there is also an emotional and intellectual reason to look for a fresh fashion start after the dramatic end of the bling-bling era.

Clothes themselves, after taking a modest position during the era of star accessories, have become more substantial. So bags become polite partners, not flashy competition, to a leather dress or to black and white patterned pajamas, both color and texture folding in together.

The concept of sustainability, a conscience about a wasteful society and the pertinent problem of finding the money for new purchases, all contribute to a mind-set where the It bag seems frivolous.

Yves Saint Laurent Spring 2009 shoe
photo: International Herald Tribune
Luxury companies have anticipated the change. Where there are logos, they tend to be quiet and classic - the Stephen Sprouse collaboration with Louis Vuitton excepted. And the more familiar LV logo canvas or Damier patterns make up the main stock.

Bags have also become smaller, with the clutch or traditional purse competing with the vast empty space in which a woman's life - phone, wallet, makeup, scarf, sneakers, change of hose, food and water - is hurled.

It all adds up to good sense, and sensibility to changing times. And if there is also a history of a recession producing wild design, well, those fantasy shoes, where design and craftsmanship are compressed into such a small space, could add a springtime fillip to clothes recycled from the closet for another season.

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