Saks Fifth Avenue bag by Shephard Fairey

In New York, bags matter. Everyone has a bag whether it be a messenger bag, a handbag, a pack-pack, or a shopping bag. Obviously, we need to carry things like notebooks, and packed lunches, and a change of shoes for the gym, but bags are a statement.

Because New York is a fashion hub, there are plenty of folks shopping, many of them tourists. Brands will capitalise on this by creating bags that are artforms in and of themselves. Since no one in New York has a car, that bag gets walked around — it becomes a mobile ad. And brands compete for that space!

The latest case of bag-branding comes from luxury retailer/department store Saks Fifth Avenue. Following the success of Pentagram’s award-winning design last year, Saks has commissioned Shephard Fairey, the artist behind the now-immortal Obama “Hope” drawing, for the Spring 2009 bags.

Inspired by Russian Constructivism, the bags are a break from high fashion’s artful, if not dull, approach of a tastefully-placed logo, and maybe some patterns. With huge letters and bold graphic elements, these bags sure make an impact, and will be unmistakable when spotted in the wild. Oddly enough, the bags only feature the Saks Fifth Avenue logo on the side panels, and small at that. They don’t need big logos in this case — who else has a bag like that?

So as we’d expect from Fairey, the graphics are solid. But what about the message? Will otherwise-weary shoppers be motivated with two-word commands such as “Arm Yourself” and “Want it”? Aside from Bloomingdales’ iconic Brown Bag series, I can’t think of any shopping bags that actually have copy, rather than just a brand logo, or perhaps tagline. Plus, they remind me a bit of that LOLcat, who says “Do Not Want!”

I do much wonder if this will revive the arms race of shopping bags. Because of the economic slump, brands had been shelving the fancy bags in favour of a more plain, sometimes downright discreet, edition. It makes sense, of course; companies want to save cash on production costs, and shoppers don’t want the world to know that after losing their job, they’re shopping at H&M instead of Barney’s, or whatever. But now it’s game on once again as the bags have reemerged as artifacts to be desired. Stores are hoping to drive sales, even small sales, just so folks can pick up a bag. So when you see those catty girls from the accounts department sporting the Saks bag, just assume it contains her lunch. And just assume she bought some kind of a keychain.

via The New York Times, UnBeige, and The Daily Heller