Monday, February 21, 2011

Fanny Packs on the Runway

The nylon fanny pack has been a joke for 20 years. But now it's making a comeback,

To Mr. Mispelaere, they represented "motion, dancing and celebrating the sun." In a nod to these free spirits, he set out to revive an accessory that has been decidedly démodé for at least two decades: the fanny pack.

His $325 DVF belted satchels hitting stores this month aren't actually called fanny packs, of course. Mr. Mispelaere refers to them as "hands-free bags"—a name, he says, that helps convey "a functional shape, but with a touch of glamour, a touch of luxury and a touch of seriousness."

As designers firm up their final picks for the Thursday launch of New York Fashion Week, Mr. Mispelaere is considering putting the bags back on the runway at his Feb. 13 show.

Fanny packs, small bags that fasten around the waist, are among the most reviled accessories in modern culture, carrying inevitable associations with "scary American tourists at the Louvre," says designer Isaac Mizrahi. He hasn't sent one down the runway since 1992. "You either love them and make them part of your life or you fight them until the end," he says.

As it turns out, more sartorial types now are butting in on the look, even as they shun the "f" word. Korean-American handbag designer Sang A Im-Propp, who sells an alligator version for $1,995, calls hers a "belt bag." The term "fanny pack," she says, "is just eww, so cheesy, so tacky, so horrible."

A fanny pack is "not something I would ever think about or talk about," says designer Reed Krakoff. This, despite the fact that the utilitarian leather "apron wraps" shown at his spring 2011 fashion show in September seemed "fanny-pack-like" according to Women's Wear Daily. Mr. Krakoff—who has driven more than a few bag trends in his other role as creative director at Coach Inc.—says his eponymous packs are "inspired by a functional aspect of something but less about actually carrying something." Indeed, most have no pockets.

That sense of fashion whimsy piqued the curiosity of Beth Buccini, co-owner of the influential New York boutique Kirna Zabête. Last summer, while browsing photographs on the Internet, Ms. Buccini became intrigued by an image of an attractive young woman sporting a fanny pack at the Coachella music festival. She turned to her business partner, Sarah Easley, and said: "It's time."

Ms. Buccini emailed Ms. Im-Propp, the handbag designer, to ask if she would be interested in designing a "frilly fancy fanny pack " for the high-end retailer to sell exclusively on Fashion's Night Out, the Vogue-sanctioned Manhattan shopping event that coincides with the autumn New York Fashion Week.

Dreaming up a wave-like design and a belt that fastens in the front or back, Ms. Im-Propp named the style the "Rise belt bag." After it sold out at the Kirna Zabête event last September, she created more versions for her own spring and fall collections.

Celebrities, increasingly keen to emphasize lower-body curves, have been early adopters. Singer Rihanna was captured by paparazzi while wearing a Louis Vuitton fanny pack on a trip to London in late 2009. Ciara, in her "Gimmie Dat" video, pairs stripper heels and a leather bustier with a giant red fanny pack that spells the word "FLY."

Belted satchels have adorned the waists of men and women for centuries. The Greeks attached small animal-hide bags containing coins to their belts. Crusaders wore "alms bags" pinned to girdles fastened around their midriffs, a convenient way to distribute money to the poor.

In the mid-20th century, the fanny pack—then worn with the bag to the rear—emerged as a popular sporting accessory among American skiers and bikers. The pouch was adopted by cautious New Yorkers in the 1970s, "when mugging was a significant threat" recalls Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large at Barneys. That's when the pack rotated 180 degrees, to the front of the body.

The look enjoyed a fleeting moment of fabulousness in the late 1980s when Chanel featured a quilted version on the runway, but soon thereafter it was relegated to the status of TV gag. On an early episode of "Seinfeld," Jerry Seinfeld points to George Costanza's fanny pack and says that it "looks like your belt is digesting a small animal."

Louis Vuitton helped reignite the fanny-pack fad last year after putting new styles on the runway. Hermès gave the trend a luxury lift with its slender $4,675 "Kelly Bandeau," set to arrive in stores for spring.

Some international designers have a cultural reason to back away from the word "fanny." Innocuous slang for the gluteus maximus in the U.S., the word is an obscenity in the U.K. and Australia, where it refers to female genitalia. In those countries, fanny packs are typically known as a "bum bags." The French call the style "le sac banane," a mocking reference to the banana shape of the pouch.

Despite the lampooning, the usefulness of the item has never eluded true believers.

Bernadette Connor, a 33-year-old attorney in Seattle, credits her fanny pack with freeing her from the tyranny of large handbags. Her last bag, which she says "was the size of a Labrador puppy," was too cumbersome to carry on her bike, inspiring her to downsize to a black LeSportsac nylon fanny pack.

In Los Angeles, 30-year-old fashion designer Lizz Wasserman says she rotates her wardrobe of 20 different fanny packs because they are simply the most convenient way she can think of to carry stuff.

"If you go out dancing, a fanny pack is very necessary," she says. "Especially if you don't want other people dancing with you."

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