“It was a fresh new thing, but it looked like an old, good, friendly thing,” Nicolas Ghesquière once said, trying to describe Balenciaga’s biker bag. Ghesquière, the former artistic director of Balenciaga, was right: this iconic accessory, with the full name Le Dix Motorcycle Lariat, was likable, and extremely good, but not at all old, even though it looked cleverly aged.
And it only seems like he’s been with us forever, that soft, cuddly lambskin companion with its long leather tassels, silver studs, little buckles in its bottom corners and, of course, that mirror attached to it. the brand. But the truth is, that hardly happened at all.
The year is 2001. Ghesquière has designed a few prototypes of what will be known in the streets as the Balenciaga Biker, and his parent company, frankly, is not happy with it. Too soft, too pasty, too unstructured, they think. And it is true that at the time, rigid and structured designer bags, many with dizzying logos, were swinging chic arms. As Ghesquière told a journalist in 2011: “The accessories [at the time] were rigid. Luxury leather, in particular, was all about stiffness. So they weren’t really happy, and they decided not to produce it. Eventually, her bosses agreed that the house could make around 25 of these Balenciaga handbags, to wear on the runway.
Oh, but then came the models, these tipsters, these sartorial canaries in the coal mine. They took a look at this fringed spongy thing and asked: is it vintage? Is this new? Can I have one? No less a luminary than Kate Moss herself demanded a bag, and as everyone from Top Shop to suppliers of art deco diamond bracelets has learned, when Moss lends his Imprimatur it is not to be taken lightly. But Moss, the stellar style designer that she is, is not entirely responsible for the ascendancy of the stock market. The bag itself spoke of the moment, with its casual carefree attitude, its effortless mix of elegance and bohemianism, its ability to cross the rapidly disappearing border between top and bottom. Not least, you wanted one because you didn’t already have something like it.
With success would come a variety of incarnations, all with subtle differentiations, and all doggedly claiming that maybe you should own more than one biker bag? The original version was called the City, with a relaxed rectangular shape, but soon there was also the Velo, which leaned more towards the square; Part Time, and Work, with subtle variations immediately recognizable to the connoisseur; the City, the Polly, the Mini-Pom-Pom! The self-explanatory wrap and the obvious Twiggy (that’s skinny.) The Biker Inaugural Edition was only available in black or brown, but the house, not known to be shy, soon made them available in a rainbow of colors. Instead of a dark neutral, your biker could be lavender or lime, khaki or pale pink, maybe even striped or smeared with graffiti, in an explosion of high-low exuberance.