Remember the last time you lugged a bag of stuff around Ikea? Remember how your back strained, how the scratchy handles tore at the skin on your palms and turned your fingers blue? Well here’s some interesting news from the world of fashion: that, right there, was you living your best, most aspirational life. That was your big style moment.
Because Ikea shopping bags are where it’s at in fashion in 2017. The hottest name to drop right now is not Kate or Naomi; it is Frakta.
Balenciaga – the most influential label in fashion at the moment – has released a $2,150 (listed as £1,365 in the UK) tote that looks uncannily like an Ikea shopper. With its trapezoidal shape, giant size and colour – a vibrant shade of EU-flag blue – the similarities are impossible to ignore. The double strap feature, with one long set of handles to hoist over the shoulder, one short to be held in the hand, cinches it. The internet has exploded, of course, and Ikea has reacted cannily, issuing a handy guide to spotting a real Frakta shopping bag. Distinguishing features, according to the advert, are as follows: if it rustles, it’s real; it costs $0.99 (40p in the UK); it’s easily cleaned with a hose.
How unexpected is this item in the bagging area? This is far from the first time that designers have charged thousands of pounds for bags inspired by everyday carriers. Balenciaga’s creative director Demna Gvasalia has a thing about riffing on the tropes of everyday life. His past hits have included bags inspired by the plastic containers that hold electric blankets and chunky checked bags that look as though they should be carrying laundry.
Clearly, Balenciaga is not the only force in the design world keen to make Frakta happen. Last month, Ikea announced a collaboration with chichi Parisian department store Colette in which its bags were decorated with blue polka dots. Last year, Danish designers Hay produced a grey and green update on the Ikea bag. In 2007 Louis Vuitton released a series of four-figure totes inspired by checked plastic laundry carriers; London-based designer Christopher Shannon has riffed on the Ikea bag, too, and has sent models down the catwalk with the sort of flimsy plastic bags that are handed out in corner shops stuck to their faces. In 2012, Jil Sander sold bags made from coated paper for £185, a price that raised eyebrows then but now seems almost a bargain.
Appropriately enough, in the age of the 5p carrier bag, this trend is going nowhere. For autumn/winter, Vetements is selling a version of the cotton mesh fruit and veg-style bags that were the original reusable shopping bags long before Daunt Books produced an aspirational canvas sack. Cos currently sells something similar for £35. Indeed, loads of high-street bags appear to have been influenced by tote bags and shopping bags; their open tops, long handles and fluid shapes look like an elevated leather version of the bag you use to carry oranges home from Sainsbury’s.
We can file this trend between “arty” and “opportunistic” – it is fashion attempting to say something arch and Duchampian about consumerism and branding, while making a joke that will guarantee a very profitable flurry of excitement on Instagram. But it’s not all bad: after years of micro-clutches that barely fit your keys, it is also very practical. This is fashion that inspires recognition and emotion: to behold that Balenciaga tote is to be transported to the tills on an unremarkable but productive Sunday afternoon. You can almost smell the meatballs.
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