Balenciaga’s ‘Le City’ Is Fashion’s Latest Comeback ‘It’ Bag

While forever in search of a new “It” bag, some of Europe’s most famous luxury brands are also resurrecting ones from the past – and quenching a thirst for nostalgia among consumers.

On Thursday, Balenciaga brought the trend to a new zenith, unveiling two campaigns to support the return of Le City bag, first introduced in 2001.

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Balenciaga conscripted photographer Mario Sorrenti to capture Kate Moss, Danish model Mona Tougaard, Chinese actress and singer Yang Chaoyue, and Korean singer Juyeon. All four personalities cradle the rectangular model with its distinctive thimble-like studs, vintage patina and dangling leather streamer-cum-zipper pull.

A second campaign, part of Balenciaga’s “It’s Different” series, features pack shots of the bag with the slogan “Beyond Nostalgia.”

Kate Moss in the Balenciaga campaign for Le City bag.
Kate Moss in the Balenciaga campaign for Le City bag.

“It’s been a while since we have had an ‘It’ bag in the market, so we are thrilled to see some of these greatest hits making a comeback,” commented Will Cooper, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s designer ready to wear, shoes and handbags at Saks.

“Customers feel confident to invest in these bags that have stood the test of time,” he explained. “We are seeing established customers who might not have owned these bags before buying them for the first time, as well as new, younger customers who are aspiring to add them to their closets.”

Cooper cited “a lot of buzz around relaunches such as the Balenciaga Le City bag,” and other recent revivals.

“Prada’s Re-edition is an amazing testament to the power of nostalgia for their nylon bags in the 2000s being reinterpreted in updated models,” he said. “Proenza Schouler is following suit by building on their famed PS1 bags, introducing new silhouettes with the iconic hardware.”

Other notable “comeback kids” in recent years include Dior’s Saddle bag, Saint Laurent’s Downtown, Gucci’s Horsebit Chain, Marc Jacobs’ Stam, and Louis Vuitton’s GO-14.

Louis Vuitton’s GO-14 bag was originally created in 2014.
Louis Vuitton’s GO-14 bag was originally created in 2014.

The GO-14 was one of Nicolas Ghesquière’s first designs for Vuitton and appeared at his debut show in 2014, making a comeback last year with a squishy, quilted surface that winks to the interiors of Vuitton’s historic trunk lids.

Dreamed up for Dior by its then-couturier John Galliano in 1999, the Saddle bag was brought back by Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior’s current artistic director of women’s collections, roughly 20 years later. Kim Jones, who designs Dior menswear, has also trotted out the Saddle in recent years.

Meanwhile, the Downtown was among a string of hit shoes and bags designed by Stefano Pilati when he was at the creative helm of YSL in the early Aughts.

Saint Laurent revived the roomy Downtown for the fall-winter 2023 season in the men’s luggage category, lauding its zippered compartments and interpreting the bag in black lambskin and sturdy cotton.

Saint Laurent’s Downtown bag.
Saint Laurent’s Downtown bag.

Laura Larbalestier, fashion director of Harvey Nichols Group, said nostalgia definitely plays into the appeal of handbags from the late ’90s and early Aughts.

She cited an “instant feel-good factor associated with these pieces as they bring back memories of a particular moment in fashion with icons like Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker from ‘Sex and the City’ and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy,” she said.

Meanwhile, “for the younger customer, they feel like iconic pieces they have seen referenced in movies, TV and social media.”

Indeed, Balenciaga already seeded a revamped Le City bag with Moss, which triggered much online discussion about the British model’s first paparazzi moments toting the vintage-looking accessory. Introduced as a test design during Ghesquière’s era at Balenciaga, the rock ‘n’ roll-tinged style has sported various names, including the Motorcycle City, the Classic City and the Le Dix Motorcycle Lariat bag.

Balenciaga said it “studied and remodeled” numerous archival bags, maintaining its 25-panel construction and such defining features as metal corner buckles, while improving upon it “in terms of sustainable production.”

The revamped Le City comes in small and medium sizes, and in a range of colors.

A 2024 version of Dior's Saddle bag.
A 2024 version of Dior’s Saddle bag.

“The trend for resale and vintage also helps enhance as it’s not always the new season pieces that are the most coveted and this helps brand to reintroduce iconic styles from the last 20 years,” Larbalestier added, noting that successful re-editions can drive up prices of the original bags in the resale market.

Chinese fashion influencer Tao Liang, professionally known as Mr. Bags, cited excitement in China over the return of Le City, although he expects many fashion fanatics to simply bring their “motorcycle” bags out of storage now that they’re back in vogue.

He cautioned that brands need to be cautious when bringing back iconic bags. For one, “most Chinese girls became familiar with bags from the big brands only within the past 15 years,” he said.

What’s more, handbags that were once very popular in China, but then cooled, are known locally as “tears of the generation.”

“We are talking about bags like Chloé’s Drew, Celine’s Luggage and Gucci’s Dionysus. They were all once the hottest bags in China. They all even have their own Chinese nicknames,” Liang said. “But because of the fact that they were so popular, when people hear about it now, they feel like it’s a bag that’s no longer hot.”

Asked if there were any bags they would like to see make a comeback, retailers had some ideas.

Larbalestier suggested the Givenchy Nightingale and Chloé’s Phoebe Philo-era Paddington “for us who want a big bag and break from small ’90s bags.”

Cooper said Saks customers have inquired about the YSL Muse and Mombasa bags, “which were huge hits in their day. I wonder if Saint Laurent will bring those back?”

Chloé’s Paddington bag came out in 2005.
Chloé’s Paddington bag came out in 2005.

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