January 28, 2017
By Candace Longfellow
FROM MARKET TO RUNWAY: INSIDE THE BALENCIAGA BAZAR BAGSHOP THE BAG
15 years after the launch of the Motocross line, Balenciaga was due for a new It bag. Last March, at the debut of his first collection for the house, Demna Gvasalia answered the call with the colorfully striped Bazar bag. Unlike other recent cult favorites like Gucci’s Dionysis or J.W. Anderson’s Pierce bag, the Bazar is not exactly a revolution in design — it’s all about utility and unpretentiousness. Many have called it a glorified reusable tote, with its design inspired by Thailand’s ubiquitous Sampeng shopping bags, named after the Bangkok market of the same name. From its oversize shape to its graphic stripes, the resemblance is obvious and has left many wondering, what’s with the $2,500 price difference?
This has become something of a theme for Gvasalia whose $1,450 reconstructed Levi’s and $330 DHL T-shirts for Vetements have subverted our understanding of luxury and originality. Whether its Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans or Moschino Barbie, the mix of high and low culture feels incongruous, yet that’s the basis of its appeal — Gvasalia’s bestselling aesthetic is about co-opting normcore, recontextualizing the mundane, and making it feel exclusive and cool.
“Designers seek inspiration from all over the world,” says Senior Authentication Director Graham Wetzbarger. “Nothing is off-limits. Everything is open to re-imagination.” While, generally speaking, fashions trickle down from maisons to T.J. Maxx, this is just one example of influence trickling up. Read on as Wetzbarger explains what Balenciaga has done to improve on its East Asian inspo and what justifies the hefty price tag.
Balenciaga Bazar Bag Stitching
“Balenciaga normally uses tonal stitching so the eye doesn’t read the thread, but in this case they wanted to draw attention to the stitches, so they chose a white thread to sort of cheapen the appearance,” explains Wetzbarger. “The Bazar bag appears to have only four stitches per inch around the perimeter trim, a design detail intended to mimic the inexpensive craftsmanship that you would find in a traditional market bag.”
“Usually, low stitches-per-inch is a sign of poor quality: the fewer stitches there are, the looser they are, the less thread they end up using. But the Bazar bag is actually quite well held together. While the Thai market bag’s stripes are printed onto a synthetic material, each stripe on the Bazar is a separate strip of crinkled goat leather. It looks as though it’s all one large panel of leather, but each color is actually tightly pieced together.”
Balenciaga Bazar Bag Interior
As with clothing, handbag quality is not just about the outward appearance. “The market tote doesn’t have lining or interior pockets, but the Bazar bag is fully lined in black cotton fabric, and contains one zip pocket and one patch pocket with leather trim, which make it a lot more functional and durable.”
Balenciaga Bazar Bag Zipper
In place of the flimsy zipper featured on the market tote, the Bazar bag features a secure two-way zipper with leather tabs for easy use. “Balenciaga often uses zippers that are engraved with a herringbone pattern on the pull and their ‘B’ logo on the underside,” says Wetzbarger. “What’s interesting about this bag is that the zipper is two-tone: it’s made from a brushed palladium-plated metal, but the logo is gold. It sets it apart from other Balenciaga bags that usually have tonal hardware with an understated logo that’s typical to luxury brands. This bag is the opposite of that.”
Balenciaga Bazar Bag Logo
While many have accused Gvasalia of being something of a copycat, authorities disagree. According to the Thai government’s Commerce Ministry, “if one intends to copy, the material, pattern, shape and color must be the same.” The many upgrades Balenciaga has made to the design make it different enough to be considered an original, and the market bag has been in production so long its origins are untraceable and it bears no trademark. “What makes a fake a fake is the attempt to pass as another brand,” explains Wetzbarger. “But Balenciaga has clearly marked the Bazar bag with its own logo at the front and the interior, which alone precludes it from being a counterfeit.”
While Gvasalia’s designs have perplexed many outside the fashion industry (and some within it), the bag is achieving icon status whether everyone “gets it” or not. “That’s how it happens with fashion,” muses Wetzbarger. “First, something’s ugly, next it’s ugly-cool and then it’s just cool.”
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