During the New York summer, there’s nothing less appealing than the piles of trash strewn across the sidewalks, overflowing not only with people, but also leftovers from last night’s take-out dinner. With their pungent smell, made worse by heat and humidity, these black plastic bags are a feast for the eyes. They are also an added expense for city dwellers who once reused supermarket bags to dispose of their trash before the state banned plastic bags in 2020.
Even so, a box of 50 more durable black trash bags from Glad is quite affordable at around $18 on Amazon, and is billed as their solution for the heaviest loads, with “advanced tear and scuff protection.” tears”. So it’s not hard to imagine that those who scoff at the price of the Glad bag would probably double upon hearing the price of Balenciaga’s Trash Pouch: $1,790 excluding taxes.
In all honesty, the bin is not made of the flexible low-density polyethylene (LDPE) of the plastic trash bags, but rather of patent calfskin and looks very functional. As a large bag, it can hold a lot, a key point for a New Yorker whose daily carry often includes not only personal essentials, but also laptops, workout clothes, reading materials in the subway, etc. But at its price, it’s no wonder social media users have made it the latest trending meme. What could they expect from an item whose designer, Demna, “couldn’t miss an opportunity to make the world’s most expensive trash bag, because who doesn’t love a fashion scandal?”
Demna Gvasalia, the Georgian-born designer whose family was displaced following the Russian invasion in the early 1990s, has made similar comments – both spoken and through her designs – in the past. His work was influenced by his childhood during the Soviet socialist era, which he sadly noted was almost devoid of fashion and full of drab, shapeless clothing. His desire to poke fun at authority and the status quo is clear in this, as well as in many of his previous creations: his 2017 riff on the ubiquitous blue Ikea Frakta bag, and Converse-style high-top sneakers in $1,500 destroyed this year. He’s been called fashion’s biggest troll for a reason.
While his may be the most expensive, Demna isn’t the only one who’s made a high-end version of this household necessity in recent years. Lanvin paraded its version of the trash bag in 2014. Independent brands Fashion Brand Company and Amehl have been making them for the past five years, and are reissuing them today, probably in reaction to the press around Balenciaga. The fact that these designers independently created their own iteration of the same element points to a larger problem. They all give their interpretation of society, and the picture is not pretty.
Holding a trash bag can be a fun conversation starter, but it’s also about how we feel about the world and our place in it. As Roland Barthes said, “it is not the dream but the meaning that sells”.
The biggest significance of Balenciaga’s trash clutch is driving its popularity and the conversation surrounding it. Far from being an ordinary object, this bag and its counterparts represent the growing vision that our society is heading towards the trash. It is the rise of authoritarian and dictatorial governments, the post-pandemic international recession, regional conflicts with global implications, impending environmental disasters. These are all real issues that naturally make people – designers and consumers – skeptical and pessimistic about the future.
It’s not new. But expressing ourselves, including our apprehensions and fears, through memes, whether in the form of a social media post or an overpriced luxury version of a home.is new and should not be taken lightly. It is a legitimate form of criticism, imbued with social, political and economic meaning.
—Doris Domoszlai-Lantner is a fashion and clothing historian and archivist. Learn more about her work at www.dorisddl.com and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @doris_ddl