Image: Telfar

Dior is busy rolling out its 30 Montaigne bag by way of a truly large-scale influencer campaign, a slew of high-profile media coverage, and early placements on big-name celebrities, including ambassador Jennifer Lawrence and Chinese mega-star Angelababy. In furtherance of its goal of creating its next bottom-line carrying “it” bag, Dior is pulling out all the usual stops that brands employ when trying to get consumers’ attention and thereby, achieve “it” status to boost revenues.

Meanwhile, as Ray Alex Smith of the Wall Street Journal noted this week, there is another way of doing this, and if Telfar Clemens is any indication, it is one that actually works. Minus “a big-budget ad campaign, snapshots of A-listers carrying it and lavish praise from fashion magazines,” Telfar Clemens, the force behind the nearly 15 year old New York-based unisex label Telfar, has managed to fashion an “it” bag of his own: Telfar’s Shopping Bag.

Speaking to Vogue’s Mark Holgate last year, 34-year old Mr. Clemens said that “the bag was actually the first thing we did with the money [we received] from winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund” in late 2017. Clemens had initially designed the T-branded vegan leather tote bag “years ago,” he says, but used the $400,000 prize money to “make it right—and in quantities.” The result was striking and swift: “It sold out immediately. Then we made more, and they sold out in a weekend. And again a third time.”

Between 2018 and May 2019, Telfar sold “more than 5,000 of his Shopping Bags,” according to the WSJ, “ringing up more than $500,000 in sales at the 28 stores that carry it and by way of the Telfar website.” The bag – which ranges in size from “mini” to “large” and maxes out at $240 – “has helped spur Telfar’s annual sales to $1.6 million from $100,000 over the past two years.” 

“How Telfar stood out in a market awash in designer bags reveals the evolution of the concept of the ‘It’ bag,” according to Smith, who notes that the era of the single, all-encompassing “it” bag per season or few seasons – whether it be Proenza Shouler’s PS1, Balenciaga’s Motorcycle bag, Dior’s Saddle bag, Fendi’s Baguette, or the more enduring classics like Chanel’s flap bags or Hermes’ Birkins – is long gone, and he is not the only one saying so.

Early this year, WWD’s Misty White Sidell asserted a similar narrative, saying “RIP to the consumer phenomenon that rested on women’s shoulders and took hold of their wallets.” The market now “reflects a broad price and style spectrum, and a consumer eager to find a unique design that suits her needs and individual taste.” That is good news for brands like Telfar.

The fragmentation of the once very clear-cut, straightforward “it” bag market – paired with the cost-efficient marketing and the sheer reach that comes hand-in-hand with social media – seems to mean that big brands, such as Dior, which faced little competition from industry upstarts in the past, need to work harder (and gift more significantly) to make a style stick. This shift also gives a very real chance to many brands and bags that just a decade ago would have had a markedly difficult time cutting through the red tape that is the established stable of highly-funded “it” brands and their “it” bags.

As for Clemens, he says the bag is rightfully a big deal. “It really represents us moving from an idea to a business.”