It looks like a blanket bag out of your grandmother’s closet, but Balenciaga’s Blanket Square tote seems to be selling well here, despite the flak it has received.
The lambskin bags, which are from the French luxury brand’s Spring/Summer collection this year, are a dead-ringer for the PVC bags used to house thick, floral-patterned blankets, with their twisted nappa handles and label on the upper right corner.
Since the item – which comes in small, medium and extra large sizes – debuted on the runway in October, netizens have slammed it online, likening it to the cheaper bagged blankets often found at night markets here.
Balenciaga’s orange version in extra large costs $5,420 – and does not come with a blanket. Despite this, a check yesterday at several of the brand’s outlets here found that the small size of the bag in yellow ($2,980) and orange ($2,980) were selling well, going by accounts of store assistants at outlets in Paragon and The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
The bags were designed by Balenciaga’s 36-year-old creative director Demna Gvasalia, known for his hip designs at avant-garde streetwear label Vetements.
It seems that pasar malam chic is all the rage these days.
Japanese fashion brand Comme des Garcons, which has a signature tote bag that looks as though it is made of crumpled brown paper, sold out upon its release in 2015.
The bag is a brand mainstay and is available at the Hilton Hotel Singapore for $130. Multi-label retailer Club21, which brought the brand to Singapore, says it sells an average of 30 such bags each month. A similar bag was launched by German luxury brand Jil Sander in 2012.
The brown sack, made of coated paper stitched together, sold for US$290 (S$405) at its New York SoHo boutique. Despite its price tag, the bag sold out quickly.
And Balenciaga’s multicoloured Bazar Shopper tote from its Fall/Winter 2016 collection, also designed by Gvasalia, did well despite initial ridicule.
The popularity of these items, however, did not come as a surprise to industry players here. Mr Darren Loke, co-founder of bag and accessories label Omitir Concepts, says that the bags are conversation starters and “a true test of faith”.
The 27-year-old says: “I do think designers sometimes merely create such pieces to test the market to see whether whatever they design will be blindly accepted by their fans.”
Singaporean artisanal bag designer Goh Ling Ling, 42, who owns bag label Ling Wu, says she knew Gvasalia was “going to tear up the rule book” when he joined Balenciaga in 2015.
She adds: “There’s a long history of artists doing the same thing... you’re seeing a similar reaction with this bag – people saying it’s not fashion or that it’s a rip-off or stolen. But that’s exactly the brand’s point – to get people to think about and question what fashion is. So whether you truly want to fork out thousands of dollars for items like this or are more interested on an intellectual level... it has gotten our attention.”
But not all shoppers are convinced. Ms Tammie Kang, 25, a marketing communications executive at a law firm, says: “I agree it looks like a blanket bag. Too bad for those unexposed to this phenomenon, where only in Asia would you see people at a pasar malam carrying such bags.”
6 luxury designs with humble beginnings
1 Banana leaf clutch from Jean Paul Gaultier's Spring/Summer 2010 couture collection
Nasi lemak to go, anyone? French haute couture designer Jean Paul Gaultier designed a clutch that looked like nasi lemak packed in a folded banana leaf. The collection also included a similar-looking handbag.
Inspiration for the collection was said to have come after Gaultier visited an exhibition about the Aztec emperor Moctezuma, but many Asian netizens could not help but feel that inspiration came from a lot closer to home.
2 PVC tote bag from Comme des Garcons
It might look like it is made of brown paper, but the tote is made of PVC and is reinforced on the inside for added durability.
The Japanese brand's tote bag was a hit when it was released in 2015, selling out quickly. In Singapore, about 30 of the bags are sold a month. The classic plain tote bag is available at the Comme des Garcons store at Hilton Hotel Singapore for $130. A limited-edition version with emojis printed on it is currently on sale at $150.
Comme des Garcons is located at 02-39 Hilton Hotel Singapore, 581 Orchard Road, open 10.30am to 7.30pm from Mondays to Saturdays and 11am to 6pm on Sundays and public holidays, tel: 6304-1362
3 Vasari bag from Jil Sander's menswear Autumn/ Winter 2012 collection
Designed by the German luxury brand's then-creative director Raf Simons, the Vasari bag was launched in 2012 and was made of coated paper stitched together. Stamped with the Jil Sander logo, it sold for US$290 (S$405), leading Vogue UK to call it "possibly the world's most expensive paper bag".
The paper version is not available here, but the leather versions in yellow and other colours were sold here.
4 Blanket Square XL bag from Balenciaga's Spring/Summer 2017 collection
This bag was indeed inspired by a floral blanket bag, according to the product write-up on Balenciaga's website. Made of lambskin and lined with canvas, the bag has internal compartments and pockets.
The design comes in three colours - blue, yellow and orange, and in three sizes, small, medium and extra large. The blue and yellow styles are priced at $2,980 and $3,700 for sizes small and medium and are available at the Balenciaga boutique at 01-39 The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Avenue, tel: 6688-7157.
The orange version, priced at $2,980 and $5,420 for small and extra large, is available at 01-07 Paragon, 290 Orchard Road, tel: 6732-0207.
5 Bazar Shopper tote from Balenciaga's Fall/Winter 2016 collection
When the bag was first released, the Thai fashion community claimed it was a copy of their traditional lightweight market bag. The ruckus even led to Thailand's Department of Intellectual Property stepping in to say that while the design was similar, it was not considered a copy.
Despite the fuss, the bag was a hit here and abroad. The tote has since spawned different colours and non-striped versions in lambskin, with a detachable shoulder strap and in four sizes - XS, S, M and XL.
Only select styles from this collection are available at the Paragon store here. Prices start from $2,050 for an extra small leather Bazar Shopper tote.
6 Tote from Louis Vuitton's Spring/Summer 2007 collection
Designed by American designer Marc Jacobs, who was the creative director of the French luxury fashion house then, the tote bag resembles the much cheaper plastic bags found at markets.
With a price tag of a few hundred dollars, it seemed that the only thing differentiating it from the original bag, which is about a hundred times cheaper, was the huge Louis Vuitton logo stamped on the front.