The New Class Of “It” Things
I remember distinctly the first time I coveted an “it” bag. I was in sixth-grade science class when a girl walked in with a Louis Vuitton baguette—going to school in Los Angeles, not in and of itself an uncommon occurrence—but this one was adorned with cartoon renderings of pink flowers. After class, my classmates crowded around to stroke the pebbled leather and coo over the purse’s cuteness. The bag was the result of a brilliant, unexpected collaboration between Louis Vuitton and Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, masterminded by Marc Jacobs in 2003. The resulting pieces were prohibitively expensive, limited in quantity, and difficult to obtain—the trifecta of an “it” item. At 13-years-old, I desperately wanted something simply because I intrinsically knew I would never have it.
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The formula for covetable “it” items—Hermés Birkins, Proenza Schouler PS1 bags, Louboutins with their immediately recognizable red sole—has shifted in recent years. As high fashion brands struggle to find audiences for their ready-to-wear, more democratic lines have found success catering to cash-strapped millennials. With a focus on craftsmanship, subtlety, and three-digit price points, independent American designers like Jesse Kamm, the design duo behind Mansur Gavriel, Lorod and others are redefining what it means to own an “it” thing.
This new class of designers have a different consumer in mind altogether: ecologically conscious, fashion savvy, and young. It makes sense. If millennials are scrimping on avocado toast in order to save for a down payment on a house (or more realistically, to pay off college loans), they’re not going shell out thousands of dollars for a bag they saw in the pages of Vogue. The new It bags, the kinds that garner envious glances and compliments wherever you go, are less flashy and pricey than their predecessors.
Los Angeles-based designer Jesse Kamm’s sailor pant is widely heralded as the gold standard in casual chic: high-waisted, cropped, and wide-legged. The $395 pants are universally flattering and have a retro appeal tempered by immaculate tailoring and modern colorways. Available at small online boutiques like The Dreslyn, Jesse Kamm’s pants come in eggshell white, black, and trendier shades like mustard, sage, and tangerine. Their designer is often photographed in wide-brim hats with a cascade of blonde hair against tan skin. Interviews with Kamm are like an aspirational lifestyle magazine come to life. “Kamm’s minimalist, outside-the-mainstream niche in the fashion industry is mirrored by her approach to living,” The New York Times wrote in 2015. “She and her husband, the entrepreneur Lucas Brower, and their 6-year-old son Julien spend each summer surfing and relaxing on remote Isla Carenero, Panama, in a simple, off-the-grid wooden house they designed themselves.” She’s an outspoken environmental advocate who sees her line and others like it as a rejection of, or backlash to, fast fashion.
Despite dozens of copy-cats from Everlane to J.Crew (JesseKamm.com has a policy not to accept returns from fashion brands) the more expensive originals continue to be a cult-favorite best seller. Kamm and others like her exemplify the slow fashion movement, their clothing and bags might cost a little more than mass-market brands, but that’s because they’re painstakingly crafted so they won’t fall apart after a season. Shopping conscientiously, the concept holds, means you’ll ultimately buy less, spend less, and contribute less waste to the environmental disaster that is modern commerce.
Ecologically conscious, fashion savvy, and young designers like New York-based Lorod also rely on ultra-specific detailing to set their designs apart. Lorod’s jeans feature a zipper that runs all the way down, under, and up to the back waistband. While Opening-Ceremony favorite Miaou’s pants are secured by rope threaded through large grommets and tied at the front. They’re expensive, but meant to be worn more than once, and indeed Miaou’s signature yellow checked trousers are repeatedly featured in the likes of model Paloma Elsesser’s Instagram photos.
In this digital age, recognizability is key to a young brand’s survival, but over saturation can mean sacrificing the indie mantel. Mansur Gavriel’s bucket bags caught on like wildfire a few years ago, and soon the black iteration, with its telltale cherry red interior, was ubiquitous. The brand sidestepped overexposure by flooding their line with new colors and shapes, as well as suede block-heeled mules in colors so vivid you want to eat them.
Meanwhile, other footwear brands take a more traditional approach, honing in on craftsmanship rather than signature looks. Los Angeles-based brand LOQ takes an earthier approach to footwear. Their shoes, handcrafted in Italy, are a favorite at sample sales, where their price-point drops by 30 or even 50 percent. LOQ’s designers, Keren Longkumer and Valerie Quant, don’t shy away from proportions and shapes out of vogue: square toes, macrame uppers, and disjointed, architectural heels. But even LOQ couldn’t avoid being pigeonholed by a signature design: when it comes to block-heeled boots, their Lazaro style is highly coveted and difficult to come by. Its scarcity is preserved by the designers’ rigid adherence to seasonality: if you missed out on the Lazaro drop this year, sorry, but check back next fall.
With their focus on handmade craftsmanship, thoughtful design, and minimalist aesthetics, the wares of these brands and their fellow designers (Staud, Creatures of Comfort, Paloma Wool, and Dôen among them) all fit cleanly side by side. Together, these items form a more holistic portrait of an effortlessly cool consumer, one who thinks about political progressivism and her career more than what her closet says about her. And in 2018, there’s nothing more modern than that.