Somewhat of a Personal History c. 1997-2008, via Shopping Bags (Part One)

I have an appreciation for well-designed shopping bags – they’re branding made utilitarian, a logo given life on the streets.

I don’t profess to collect them – in fact, these days I just throw everything into a bag I bring myself.  However, over the years I have kept a few that I found unusual or appealing.  The funny thing is that it’s less likely than not that I still have whatever I brought home in these bags, but in a way that’s kind of the beauty of it.

Here are a few that I particularly connect to, along with some recollections.  As a disclaimer, this is mostly from memory – I’ve tried to confirm certain details where possible, but not strenuously so.

#1 – Liquid Sky, New York City, circa 1997/8

Liquid Sky

Fig. 1 – Liquid Sky, New York City

Liquid Sky was a clothing and record label expatriated from Brazil and based in New York in the 90s (among other things, the label was: responsible for breaking DJ Spooky, an early proponent of  junglism in the US and an experimental variant of IDM called “illbient”).  Their boutique on Lafayette Street was an early streetwear pioneer in the neighborhood and is probably now most famous for employing a pre-Kids Chloe Sevigny as a sales assistant.  The clothes were laid out in the front and the records were in the back and maybe downstairs.

This bag brought home a Liquid Sky hoodie for Ms. Crossfire.  I remember it cost $85, which was expensive at the time – I remember the woman who sold me it saying that she wished her boyfriend would buy her expensive hoodies.  I’d like to think it was Ms. Sevigny, but the timing doesn’t match up.

In any case, the store was replaced by the boutique for Issey Miyake’s prepper lifestyle brand Final Home a year or two later.  I think Liquid Sky had a short-lived and somewhat depressing existence on St. Marks before going back to Brazil after September 11.

#2 Helmut Lang, New York City, circa 1998-2002


Fig. 2 – Helmut Lang, New York City

What is there to say about Helmut Lang?  Among other things, he helped re-invent menswear basics and was at the forefront of a number of retail innovations.  Most notoriously among the latter, he was the first designer to take advantage of the new advertising space on top of New York taxis in the late 90s (in a move considered controversial in fashion at the time).  He was also one of the first ready-to-wear designers to post lookbooks online – at a time that Prada’s website only had a landing page and phone number you could call to find your nearest Prada store.  And – he was ahead of the pack in terms of getting away from bulky shopping bags in favor of plastic ones.  Minimal, sleek and functional – the epitome of Helmut Lang.

I was basically obsessed with this store from 1998-2002.  On its day, the staff could vibe you on par with Supreme.  Regarding this bag, I remember Agnes B up the street copying it and the staff having a conniption about it.  Another memory was overhearing a crisis when Brad Pitt’s assistant ordered something for him over the phone but wasn’t given the appropriate discount.

If I’m honest, this brand’s influence is still being felt throughout Soho – including these bags (see Part Two; in the meantime you can also use your imagination).

#3 Het Modepaleis (Dries Van Noten), Antwerp, circa 2001-2


Fig. 3- Het Modepaleis, Antwerp

Ms. Crossfire spent a year doing research in Antwerp starting September, 2001.  At the time, I was a consultant on full salary working for a company who were struggling with sales.  I had lots of time on my hands and the timing couldn’t be better – the dollar was at an all-time high against the Euro (almost twice as strong as it is now) and direct roundtrip flights to Brussels were about $300.

Het Modepaleis is the flagship store for the Dries Van Noten brand and is located in his home town of Antwerp.  If you know the brand, it is needless to say that it is housed in an impeccably furnished 19th Century building from the Belle Epoque. (If you don’t know the brand, suffice to say that it’s the kind of brand to be housed in an impeccably furnished 19th Century building from the Belle Epoque – but not insufferably so).

This bag features the above building (literally translated as “The Fashion Palace”) primarily and the brand secondarily.  Which is as it should be.

#4 Mode 2001 Exhibition, Antwerp, 2001


Fig. 4 – Mode 2001, Antwerp

2001 was also the year that the Flanders Fashion Institute put on the Mode 2001 exhibit, a civic celebration of the Flemish contribution to global fashion.  Curated by Antwerp visionary / eccentric Walter van Beirendonck, it was sort of a giddy, city-wide version of a Costume Institute exhibition.  The exhibition was commemorated with a handful of museum exhibitions and related publications.

This bag brought home: the Mode 2001 catalog (which I’ve embarrassingly never opened), the Antwerp fashion walk guidebook, a capital “A” floating keychain, a WvB designed long sleeve t-shirt and the inaugural “A” issue of a magazine that apparently evolved into A Magazine Curated By (said issue was edited by Dirk van Saene).

#5 Wouters & Hendrix, Antwerp, circa 2002

Wouters & Hendrix

Fig. 5 – Wouters & Hendrix, Antwerp

Rounding out the Antwerp section, this one’s kind of cheating since I’ve never been to this store (of which there are now three).  Ms. Crossfire ended up there somehow and bought me a pair of abalone shell cufflinks to go with a French cuff shirt that I had bought at the Modepaleis (I still have both).  I still think of it as more art gallery than jewelry boutique – the story Ms. C told me involved a small paper animal sculpture that one of the staff placed in her hand and was seemingly animated by its trembling motion and warmth.  The bag appears to be hand stained.

(to be continued)