Style—- Function—-One bag – the Balenciaga bag.
The word “It” has been bandied about casually, often leading to the loss of power of that word. But few bags have achieved such mythic status like Balenciaga’s Lariat that there’s no apt word to describe it but, well, “It.”
The house that Balenciaga built
Cristobal Balenciaga founded his fashion house in 1918 in San Sebastian, Spain. With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Balenciaga was forced to move to Paris.
Soon after, Balenciaga made a name for himself, eventually influencing other designers, including Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. After the Second World War, the designer made a radical move away from fashion conventions of the time, emphasizing a more linear look.
Unfortunately, Balenciaga closed in 1968. Soon after, Cristobal died in 1972. It was only in 1986 that the fashion house was revived after being bought by Kering. This period of revival saw a few illustrious designers take the helm, including Alexander Wang and Demna Gvasalia.
The bag that started it all
Today, Balenciaga is renowned as a maker of fine leather goods, especially its Motorcycle bag and leather jackets.
Balenciaga’s reputation as makers of the “It” bag rests mainly on the iconic Balenciaga Lariat which became massively popular during the early 2000s. Although there were other bags that were coveted, the Lariat was in a category of its own, creating for itself an unequaled reputation which came about through the combination of the Internet and the renewed vigor of luxury brands during that era.
The name Lariat may not be familiar to many, especially to the younger generations, mainly because it currently has two names – the Motorcycle and the City.
The bag was the brainchild of Nicolas Ghesquiere who helmed the fashion house as creative director starting in 1997, following Josephus Thimister. Although the brand was revived in 1986, Balenciaga, at that time, was not as popular as it previously was.
Things started to turn around in 1998 after the debut of Ghesquiere’s Spring/Summer collection. During that time, accessories began emerging as an integral part of designer collections, something that Balenciaga was lagging behind.
Ghesquiere and his team began working on the Lariat in 2001. However, his initial effort was met with disapproval by the brand’s top executives. However, the creative director found an unlikely ally to champion the bag: their models.
The brand’s models, such as Kate Moss, approached Ghesquiere and inquired about the bag, thinking that it was a vintage flea market find, to which the designer responded that it was a prototype.
The birth of the It bag
Emboldened by this initial appreciation of the Lariat, Ghesquiere proceeded to make a limited run of the bag, which he intended to give as gifts for the models. The reaction of the models, coupled with the photos of the bag circulating on the Web, made it an overnight sensation.
And there was nothing like it at that time. Drawing inspiration from the past, the Lariat was everything that you can expect from one of the most respected fashion houses – a bag that seamlessly married style with function. And at that time, that was something refreshing: a well-made accessory (sans a logo) that was also accessible. Soon after, Balenciaga went into full production of the Lariat, inspired by the initial demand for it.
For Balenciaga, the Lariat was a critical piece for two essential reasons. First, it served as the luxury brand’s anchor for its accessory line. Second, it generated massive income for it.
The Lariat, and its unexpected traction from the public was a sign of better things to come. And from a financial standpoint, it is now agreed upon that luxury brand accessories generate billions in sales.
Balenciaga bags today
To date, the Lariat is one of Balenciaga’s most successful accessories launched, endearing itself to its fans with its no-nonsense appeal combined with the quality of materials. Such is the appeal of the bag that apart from limited releases being sold out immediately, the resellers sell their wares briskly.
Balenciaga typically uses durable and lightweight leather in crafting its bags, allowing each to age well and acquire a unique, individual character.
Initially, Balenciaga used distressed goatskin for its bags. Then it discontinued the use of this leather in 2008, only to use it again in 2013. In 2007, the fashion house introduced the use of lambskin leather for its bags. Balenciaga has also been known to use calfskin, especially for its Papier line as well as for some of its limited releases.
Another unique characteristic that sets Balenciaga’s bags apart is the use of flat brass hardware. It started with the Lariat and continues today with the Giant and Classic Antique Brass.
From failure to a home run, Ghesquiere perfectly sums up the essence of the Balenciaga bag: “It was a new fresh thing, but it looked like an old, good, friendly thing.”