Why those in the know are no longer in with the It Bag

The once-fashionable accessory does not carry the same weight it once did. Harriet Walker reports on new trend for the utility bag

The It Bag is dead! Long live the It Bag! In fashion circles, there's always a new piece of designer luggage to tote, but this season you'd be hard-pressed to spot it. With the overkill and overexposure of so many labels, what with celebs parading their goods everywhere from red carpets to the final of Britain's Got Talent, the style cognoscenti have turned to the last word in understated and elite accessories: the utility bag. Such a bag is likely to be quiet, casual, anonymous and – of course – staggeringly expensive.

"It's to do with the fact that fashion has gone so overground," explains Iain R Webb, professor of fashion at Central Saint Martins in London. "Cheryl Cole wears all the latest London designers on The X Factor, it's all show, show, show. This is the way that the high-end fashion industry returns to elitism."

The industry is not, of course, shunning the highly lucrative market for OTT and bling – only this week, a Gucci handbag costing £11,040, made from crocodile skin and topped with a bamboo cane handle, sold out on Net-a-Porter.com. But some of the season's other offerings – and some of the most popular among those in the know – are rather quieter in the way they proclaim their fashion credentials.

As part of the Jil Sander spring/summer 2011 collection, for example, the designer Raf Simons presented carrier bags. Simple, plastic shopping bags with two handles, made from transparent red acetate and bearing none of the signature hardware, name plates, bells or whistles normally associated with an It Bag. The Market Bag, as it was dubbed, sold out almost immediately wherever it was stocked. It cost £90.

"We had an amazing reaction to the Jil Sander Market Bags from the moment they went on sale," says Holli Rogers, buying director at Net-a-Porter. "The orange plastic version sold out within days of launch."

The trend comes at the same time as a resurgence of interest in Prada's iconic nylon rucksacks. These humble holdalls, which cost £480, became the ultimate status symbol of the Nineties. And at ultra-high-end label Reed Krakoff, you can pick up a blue leather gym bag for £1,200. "Fashions happen in cycles," Professor Webb continues. "It was the same in the early Nineties, too. With them, as soon as you see it, you know – but with these, only those in the know will know."

It has ever been the chic rule of thumb not to advertise one's personal assets, but "stealth wealth" truly caught on among the in-crowd in the years following the yuppie heyday, as a more classy alternative to the hyped-up "loadsamoney" attitude. Designers such as Christian Lacroix and Thierry Mugler, who had embodied the spirit of the flamboyant Eighties, gave way to the simple, more minimal work of Prada and Helmut Lang.

"Prada's minimalism is followed like a Zen Buddhist religion by fashion acolytes," wrote the International Herald Tribune's Suzy Menkes at the time. "The Prada philosophy fits the (fairly expensive) bill for the Nineties shopper who aspires to be a connoisseur of good things, rather than an avid consumer of status symbols."

"Prada may not make you look rich," Vogue declared in March 1995, "what could be more vulgar than that? But it sure makes you feel it." And that is the new direction for fashion in times of tightened belts and shallow pockets: the unobtrusive item recognised by a privileged few and, therefore, with a much longer fashionable lifespan.

"Fashion is once again becoming something more artistic, and less commercial," Professor Webb adds. "These products have a utilitarian moniker, but they're not necessarily what they say they are on the tin."

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

    £24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

    Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

    £22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

    Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

    Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions