The concept of the It Bag is one of fashion’s most entrancing ideas -- in a world of near-constant production, what gets to define an era? In the It Bag-peak of the early-aughts, many handbags vied for the top spot. Among these is the Balenciaga City Bag, an It Bag that was an It Girl favorite. At over 20 years old, the City Bag is a luxury fashion icon, constantly evolving but retaining the unique style that rocked the fashion world.
Nicolas Ghesquière Creates the Motorcycle Lariat
Despite its decades of ubiquity, the popularity of the Balenciaga City Bag was not a foregone conclusion. When Nicolas Ghesquière, the creative director of Balenciaga from 1997-2012, was tasked with creating a handbag that could compete with the other fashion houses during the It Bag craze, the higher-ups were not impressed. Ghesquière’s 2001 prototype, then called the Le Dix Motorcycle Lariat, was a stark contrast to the bags that were popular at the time. In a 2011 interview with WWD, Ghesquière states that “Accessories [at the time] were rigid. Luxury leather, especially, was about rigidity.” The Motorcycle Lariat, crafted from soft lambskin leather with a slouchy silhouette and an absence of logos, was thought to be just too different from the current fashion norm.
Ghesquière convinced his bosses to produce 25 of the Motorcycle Lariat bags to be carried on the runway. When the models saw the bags, they were instantly smitten. Kate Moss was entranced by the bag -- Ghesquière states that she asked him, “What is that? Is it vintage? Is it something that you found at the flea market?” The Motorcycle Lariat, soon to be known as the City Bag, was at once timeless and completely of-the-moment, representing a high fashion cool that still seemed accessible. Once the larger fashion world saw the Motorcycle Bag on the runway, the demand was undeniable, and Balenciaga finally had an It Bag for the new millennium.
A 2000s Celebrity Favorite
Once the City Bag hit the streets there was no denying its influence. Seemingly every celebrity, socialite, and model were photographed with the bag slung over their arm. A pre-The Row Mary-Kate Olsen famously toted a mint green City Bag throughout the early aughts. Nicole Richie, a quintessential Y2K celebrity, carried Motorcycle bags in a variety of colors and styles. And it wasn’t only celebrities that loved the City Bag. Part of the bag’s charm is that it is designed to be worn constantly, day and night, and is meant to get a little dirty and beat up. Unlike some other luxury handbags, the City Bag seemed like it could bridge the gap between high status celebrities and non-famous fashion lovers. In the words of Ghesquière: “You could be a Balenciaga girl with that bag.”
Over the years the City Bag has expanded into different styles, including the Velo, Work, Town, and Hip. The City Bag’s signature studs can also differ from bag to bag. The classic Arena hardware is usually crafted from antiqued brass, but can also be rendered in gold and silver tones. The Giant 21 and Giant 12 hardware are larger than the Arena, and the Brogues hardware is covered in leather. With a wide range of styles, colors, hardware types, and leathers, the City Bag possibilities are endless.
Demna Gvasalia’s Neo Classic
Demna Gvasalia, the current Balenciaga creative director, introduced the Neo Classic for the Fall/Winter 2020 collection. An updated version of the City Bag, the Neo Classic features a more structured silhouette than its predecessors, while keeping the iconic signature details like the braided handles and dangling lariat strips. Like the original City Bag, the Neo Classic comes in an array of colors and sizes -- the large is roomy enough to tote around the day’s necessities and frivolities, and the Super Nano is an of-the-moment fashion statement.
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