Instagram killed the It bag

In 2008, Anya Hindmarch made headlines when she predicted the demise of the It bag. A decade later, there is plenty of evidence that she was right.

This is especially true in the US, the world’s largest luxury market, where handbag sales declined 7 per cent year-over-year to July 2019, according to NPD. Luxury handbag sales, which had held up despite revenue in every other price segment flatlining or falling, are now falling too. While It bags still drive growth in emerging markets, the US slump is looking increasingly hard to turn around. The total number of handbags introduced by luxury brands declined 24 per cent in the UK and 33 per cent in the US last year, per Edited.

“The handbag doesn’t necessarily mean what it used to mean. Consumers’ priorities have changed in terms of what they are spending their money on,” says Beth Goldstein, accessories and footwear analyst at NPD.

Social media reduces life cycles

Some blame the end of the It bag on Instagram. Social media exposes customers to trends so quickly that excitement is extinguished before most new styles can gain sales momentum. When Fendi launched the Baguette in 1997, the ensuing buzz sustained sales for years, and the iconic model was regularly sold out in New York department stores. Such was its impact that when its popularity fell after two years, the LVMH brand’s sales declined by $20 million for two years in a row.

Today, trends have to reach a level of internet virality to stay in the spotlight. Mini bags were some of the year’s hottest leather goods, with Off-White’s Jitney, the Chloé Mini C and Bottega Veneta’s Pouch among the most popular, according to Lyst. The trend reached its peak when Jacquemus sent a purse down the Autumn/Winter 2019 runway so tiny it could barely fit a few coins.

“We regularly see customers saving images from Instagram and then coming to our physical stores to ask how they can get their hands on it,” says Hollie Harding, non-apparel buying manager at Browns.

These bags also took off because they’re relatively affordable compared to traditional It bags, thereby satisfying the desire of Instagram-savvy customers who don’t want to post too many photos with the same accessory. Jacquemus mini bags generally cost between £200 to £500, while Off-White’s Jitney bag and the Chloé Mini C shoulder bag hover around £1,000.

While London-based Browns still sees demand for heritage labels like Loewe, Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta and Gucci, demand has surged for lower-priced options. Contemporary brands like Jacquemus, Staud and Wandler have benefitted from more frequent purchases and seasonal updates, says Harding.

Staud was launched to serve a perceived need for an elevated but accessibly priced fashion brand, but it was the bag business that “blew up for us” quickly, says co-founder Sarah Staudinger. Certain popular styles, like the £300 Moreau bucket bag and the £240 Moon Bag, have been difficult to keep in stock. Revenue reportedly increased fivefold to $20 million in 2018, per the brand, and Staud now counts Saks, Net-a-Porter and as stockists.

Dutch designer Elza Wandler launched her handbag line in 2017 with price points ranging between £500 and £1,000. Two years later, it became the bestselling contemporary handbag brand on Net-a-Porter. Wandler’s approach is to maintain a luxury-adjacent positioning, but to “keep the prices as reasonable as possible, so it stays fun to buy a bag”, she says.

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