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mayakotomoriforever: An Era of Not-It

mayakotomoriforever is a monthly fashion column by yours truly, self-reported and researched to the 9s. Maya skipped February for Black History Month. It's called protecting your peace, and you should try it sometime.

Hi, my name is Maya Kotomori, and I am a bag lady. Say it back.

Bag, satchel, purse, pouchette, clutch, crossbody (ew), and my personal favorite, pocketbook. The purse-lexicon is very clearly defined, by shape, closure, handle length - but how do we add and subtract from the bag talk today? In racking my brain for an answer, I've turned my attention to the It bag. Like It girls, the bags are kind of a thing of the past. For late 90's babies like myself, we remember coming to tweendom alongside icons, but what do we have to show for it? We can't expect to live the gorgeous, fashionable and deeply aspirational lives we invented for our ourselves at age 11, not can we expect to carry their accessories. Things change, and as is the nature of fashion within change, tastes, as we embody them, constantly both evolve and blunt the collective palette. In essence, we can't be Sky Ferreira or Devon Aoki or, for freaky little writer girls like myself, Susie Bubble, not only because these icons' ascension to their own glossy lives can't exist anymore given the economy, state of climate change etc., but because our very fixation on Girls Like That has killed It - the dream.

The easiest way to see this relationship is via the bags of yore because: we don't have a new It bag. While my generation's seemingly dedicated, yet pathetically obsessive tendencies are often referred to as hope for a future, healthy "self-aware" society, we've really just left a weird, pathological smudge of what once was, like a horrible stain on a classic 2.55. We're obsessed with the idea of It bags in the same way we used to run fully-curated Tumblr blogs: we think we can mimic importance, and that that aesthetic can then become important because we willed it. We seek to signal that we are the types of people who belong to the It bag's orbit of influence, rather than owning the bag itself. We loved the bags of yore to death, literally, because we haven't been able to get our footing on the shoulders of giants, and acknowledge that the It times we grew up aspiring to went the way of the dinosaur, the T-Mobile Sidekick, and, very tragically, Kitson Couture.

Let's start with the "It" Girls - who were they, and who did they carry? Arguably, the first true modern It Girl was Mary Quant, the social pioneer of both the micro mini skirt and hot pants, as well as owner of my favorite bowl cut. Not only would Mary's daring decision to take hemlines several inches above the knee shock the fashion industry, it would largely define the Youthquake of 60s England, and create the Chelsea Girl (not to be confused with the Warhol short). Mary's Chelsea Girls were the chic mod girls, daring to wear checkerboard dresses, candy colored tights and flat shoes so they could twist and Watusi the night away at the clubs. These party girls were the It girls who would pave the way for equally aesthetically-specific subcultures full of It people: club kids like James St. James, icons like Paris Hilton and Chloë Sevigny. What do all of these people have in common? Their influence completely exploded their image, twofold: not only are we talking about the birth of "the tastemaker," a term used to turn these unicorn-ish icons' amalgamated fashion, literature, food, music, and fine art tastes into sellable brands for the uninformed consumer (aka "lifetstyle"), we're talking about the birth of parasocial obsession, of wanting what icons want, knowing what they know, having what they have. There was a sliver in time where this obsession became iconic, around the 90s-around 20011, where the It bag had its reign. Today, the parasocial aspect is what gets me down. We don't genuinely want, know, or even have anymore, our biggest desire is to look like we want, know, and have, to mimic the specificity that made icons, icons. And we don't even have a bag to show for it!

We carry former It bags to let everyone know. Similar to Mary Quant and the Chelsea Girls, there are certain cults surrounding handbags. We're not talking about the Birkin bag (named after one icon Jane Birkin, of course) and its infamous waitlist, we're talking about the new ways in which bags signify the parasocial relationship to past icons. From Chloë Sevigny's time in the '90s, we had a resurgence of Prada nylon everything that, thank God, is finally dying down having reached critical mass around 2019-2020ish (at least here in NYC). A true bubble-up style movement, anyone who'd lusted over the Prada nylon shoulder bag before 2016 knows that "steal" prices used to be under $100 on The RealReal, not under $800 like today, that is, if you can even find one. Once the bag hit critical mass among influencers and so-called "style gurus," Prada showed that it was paying attention and and re-issued the entire nylon program in a climate conscious package: Prada Re-Nylon of 2020.

Today, we pathologize the very idea of having a niche taste (meta, I know), and the bags we want have gotten even niche-er. The most prolific, I'd say, is the Yves Saint Laurent Mombasa bag, a pocketbook that initially hit stores in December 2001 and, unfortunately, is hitting critical mass as well. The bag is fabulous - it has a horn motif as the handle, and the large size is truly a perfect bag for any girl on the go who needs at least one beverage along with her books and pens for the day. 6 months after I purchased my own secondhand Mombasa on Poshmark, Vogue reported that the purse is not only making a comeback, but is a great investment. 3 months into wearing my Mombasa as one in my my top 3 bags I like to keep in rotation, a random 19-year-old girl came up to me at Winnie's, said she was "sooooo excited to meet a fellow Mombasa user" and asked me the usual questions you'd ask someone who recently scored a really good apartment: where'd you find it? How much? I shrugged aside my more Sagittarian impulses which told me to point at my tongue with my index finger and audibly fake gag until she went away, and just said that talking about money with strangers is weird and tacky unless it's about rent. What was most disturbing to me was how this girl looked at everybody else around us, as if they were beneath her. She tried to look at me like that until she noticed that we had the same bag. Fashion and style people are known to have that kind of a snobby aura, and an aspect of it is pretty chic. Today though, we can't even be snobby in a genuine way, we have to try and mean-girl-connect via a bag that came out when I was 3 and probably before that girl's parents even met. As Mombasas hit critical mass, I smile because of girls who follow a more monastic fashion life undergirded by unfiltered taste, girls like like Mika Kol (aka trustfundgothh) whose good taste and general swag led her to the bag initially, and now leads her to the bag-bag: she's selling her very impressive collection of the coveted purse silhouette at truly competitive prices. Vaccarello is watching, and I suspect a reissue of the bags in the next 2-3 seasons or so, although Matthieu Blazy's SS23 accessories for Bottega Veneta kind of blew the Mombasa's silent influence up with a reissue of the Sardine bag. I digress.

The next bag to hit critical mass is the Chloé Paddington, the It bag designed by God herself, Phoebe Philo in 2004. The bag is known as a celebrity staple, having been photographed on literally anybody who was anybody back then. Is it coming back? The Tik Tok fashion psychos have decided so, meaning that the lucky thrift finds are soon to turn into reasonably-priced finds on The RealReal, which, in my own personal forecasting, will give way to $500 The RealReal finds after a really popular influencer is spotted carrying one. A trip down memory lane:

Natacha Ramsay-Levi tried to bring the bag back in 2019 with the Aby bag, which simply didn't take off like the Paddington for the same reason why we won't have another Susie Bubble - it's not 2006 anymore, and we can't shallowly mimic the aesthetic of "It" in the context of a completely different time period and expect it to yield the same iconic results - I mean, woof. To keep it a buck, the Aby was ugly, which is probably why it's no longer in production and doesn't do very well on eBay, Depop, or the like.

I'm horrified by the state of bags just from these two examples. Sometimes I carry my Richard Prince Louis Vuitton jokes bag from '08 (my undergrad graduation gift) and people on the street gush about how "rare of an archive piece" my bag is to butter me up for an offer to buy it off my person. This has happened to me twice by strangers. We've become so incredibly tacky, and not even in the free-spirited way - our generation's lack of an It bag is a magnifying glass on that issue. I'll end on this sentiment: I'm so fucking tired of people trying to use fashion from 15-25 years ago as a signifier of refinement, when really, it's a signifier of the algorithm's influence on taste itself. The fashion industry learned it can push an agenda online, see what sticks, and then re-issue or re-make, just like Prada Re-Nylon and the Aby bag. Your self-titled unique fixation on what's "rare" and "archive" is a top-down ploy to mine data for the next big collection, and isn't as special as you think. It's definitely not worth donning a snobby attitude, when it just looks like you're swacking your babysitter from when you were 5, and even worse: trying to pass that off as the pinnacle of taste.

Fashion and style people are some of my favorite people, because when you sift through all of this bullshit, you find a group of people who study, look, and most importantly, care about looking and the ways of looking that govern our little field of the arts. These cats have their own personal style, and it almost never coincides with what everyone else talks about. Fashion and style people are rare, in the same way that artists with real, semi-alienating perspectives are rare: that kind of hyperspecificty cannot be manufactured or studied, it doesn't come from being able to identify a bag, it comes from liking yourself. That's why we don't have an It bag, with the widespread acceptance of being what I call DietWeird, the full-fat, high fructose capital-F Freaks have been pushed into the shadows, no longer having a real place in fashion or style like they used to. Bring them back, so we can stop screaming "not It!" in this proverbial game of tag.

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