Pigeons have been waiting for their fashion moment for a long time. But this fall the undisputed bag of the season is a resin replica of a pigeon made by Irish designer JW Anderson, yours for £795.
That’s if you can get your hands on one. The pigeon already has a waiting list on the brand’s site (where it was the most viewed article in August), and is sold out on Net-a-Porter. And that was before Sarah Jessica Parker was seen with the pigeon this week on the set of the new season of And Just Like That…. On TikTok, a video of the pigeon unboxing has over 27,000 views.
The pigeon may be a bag, but it is not a practical purpose bag. Hollow inside, it has room to carry maybe a credit card and lip balm. Instead, it’s a prop, a stunt, a meme brought to life. Less a bag and more a main character accessory.
Other similar designs vying for attention? Balenciaga’s £1,290 ‘trash’ bag, a solid gold bag on the catwalk at Coperni worth €100,000 (£87,928) and Louis Vuitton‘s bag designed to look like a can of paint, which sells for £1,980.
The idea of a bag that doesn’t serve the purpose of a bag might seem strange. But for Charlie Porter, the author of What Artists Wear, their appeal is “newness – with this double meaning because newness means new and means a kind of ‘ha ha’. Brands need to create novelty and novelty.
Indeed, handbags are having a bit of a hard time right now. Once the toughest things we owned, now it’s possible to leave the house with just your smartphone.
Jacquemus was the first modern designer to respond to this with his minibag. Despite its small size of 9cm x 12cm, the Mini Le Chiquito was figuratively huge when it was released in 2019 – while the practical hassles of carrying things are a thing of the past, why not carry something fun to the place ?
The fun bag trend goes beyond lifestyle changes, however. The absurd bags are part of a larger shift in fashion towards items and designs that fit well into a culture filled with meme sight gags. These range from 2019’s Viktor & Rolf dresses with slogans such as ‘Sorry I’m late, didn’t mean to come’ to Balenciaga’s oversized suit, worn by Justin Bieber at the Grammys this year, and shoes at 1,200 £ from Loewe (also designed by Anderson) where the stiletto heel runs through what looks like a broken egg.
Reilly, the artist behind popular fashion meme Instagram account @heyreilly, says memes are now “a formative part of public discourse”. [and] a great way for brands to generate more interest in what they do”. Indeed, these online moments sell units. If not everyone buys the trash bag, it just might send them to Balenciaga’s site.
Mini bags first appeared at the end of the 18th century. Called reticles, these were small ornamental bags. The size was soon derided by satirists – and dubbed “ridiculous”.
For decades, Judith Leiber has made bags representing normal things out of crystal, for four-figure prices. It’s one of Leiber’s bags that became a storyline on Sex and the City, when Carrie is outraged that Mr. Big gives her a crystal duck bag. Fast forward a few decades and some fashion trends, and Carrie is happily sporting a pigeon.
In recent years, Raf Simons has taken paper shopping bags to the catwalk in 2012, selling coated versions of the disposable items for $290 (£260). At Celine in 2013, Phoebe Philo collected using the checks familiar from the kind of bags you drag to the laundromat. Demna Gvasalia has long taken this approach – in 2017 he produced a blue tote that looked a lot like the Ikea Frakta bag.
Porter also argues that these main character accessories disrupt the “gendered mess of the purse.” He points out how women working in factories during World War II were emancipated by the pockets, only for the fashion industry to “force women to become sexual again and carry their things in a nice handbag” after the end of the war. When this cute handbag is a facsimile of a pigeon, the ridiculousness of the article puts all these constructions in disarray.
You could say these bags reflect the art world’s love of taking images out of context, as with Duchamp’s 1917 urinal, Dalí’s 1938 sofa designed in honor of Mae’s lips West or Elsa Schiaparelli’s modern, mind-bending shoe hat in 1937. Kathryn Johnson, curator of Objects of Desire, a new exhibition on surrealist design at the Design Museum, sees the parallels. “These pieces are made in a spirit of provocation, daring and fun that is recognizably surreal,” she says. “[It’s] elevating ordinary and neglected or devalued objects to the status of treasures.
They also nod to Andy Warhol with his 1960s soup cans and Brillo cans. pigeon and trash bag are on the dirtiest and dirtiest side of our existence. Gvasalia went a step further with her show at Paris Fashion Week this month. Models walked a catwalk of mud, with bags made of teddy bears you might find in a dumpster.
This is perhaps the ultimate trick: making a main character prop – likely to sell for thousands of pounds – look like rubbish. Johnson thinks this is, again, consistent with surrealism. “It doesn’t minimize or stray from the darker side of life, it’s not an escape, but it shows the importance of art and design in our time,” she says. “To quote Dorothea Tanning: “Art has always been the raft we ride on to save our sanity. I don’t see a different purpose for it now.