The familiar jingling of keys down the Balenciaga runway reminded me that there was a time when I, a woman who couldn’t drive and only left my house to go to work or school, had a single key attached to a massive keychain collection. I’d have to cull the collection depending on the bag I wore and I’d amassed a sizable amount of keychains over the years. It was a representation of my identity, my travels, and my passions. It was uniquely me.
To my surprise, this childhood obsession is now informing the Spring/Summer 2024 runways, as brands like Balenciaga and Miu Miu embrace a cluttered bag.
Amidst repurposed wedding dresses and PVC tablecloths, leather supermarket totes and oversized trench coats, an avalanche of keychains rattled. Dangling in a familiar chaos, locks, chains, multicolored labels, and even a gift shop keychain of the Eiffel Tower were strewn across the sides of one noticeably worn black shoulder bag.
Another well-loved bag made it down the Balenciaga runway with far fewer adornments but all the stories that come from a keychain collection, with dangling tassels, keys, and heart charms resting on the grey leather. The model clutches a passport-shaped wallet. No one knows where she’s going or where she’s been, but her bag gives us a clue.
Elsewhere at Fashion Week SS24, Miu Miu’s models stomped down the runway with bags stuffed to the brim with clothes and shoes.
Sunglasses dangled on buckles (because the sunglasses’ case is most likely stuffed at the bottom of the bag and we don’t have time to take it out) and cords swing from handles. The various states of each purse convey class, urgency, or even the suggestion of a one-night stand with only the keychains, documents, or heels shoved into an open purse.
Hyper-customized accessories are nothing new; long has the bag been a calling card for passions. Customization queen Jane Birkin, the namesake of the iconic Hermès bag, regularly treated her own as a personal billboard for charities she loved and political movements she supported by slapping stickers or PVC-covered cards on the front. Beads, rabbit keychains, and ribbons also came and went.
FRUiTS, the legendary ‘90s-era Japanese publication that showed Harajuku street style in all of its maximalist glory, similarly showed the endless possibilities of accessories as representative of personal identity.
Ita bags — a bag with a clear panel and a removable foam liner for pins and keychains — were popularized by female “otaku,” also known as anime and manga fans, who wanted to showcase their collections of pins, plush keychains, and photos.
This customization streak has taken a new generation by storm. Interchangeable headphone decals turn an everyday utility into a fashion statement. Marc Jacobs and Dr. Martens recently created two boots that feature a chain adorned with mismatched charms along the ankle. Even the meteoric rise of Sonny Angels has inspired people to find the perfect cases to clip to their belt buckles or purses,coordinating with each outfit.
Showcasing personal style on the runway is tricky. There’s still that accessibility barrier because of how much most of these items cost, and the manufactured chaos dulls the luster. For example, Balenciaga recreated years of collected tchotchkes and souvenirs into a one-size-fits-all accessory, and Miu Miu’s cluttered bags were positioned backstage to make sure that each heel visibly spilled out.
But these things should be personal: Jane Birkin’s initial vision for the world’s most covetable bag was as a go-to for young mothers.
These runways channel real-life, relatable situations that people can relate to, like when they see a person in flats carrying a tote bag filled with heels, or a well-loved, slightly discolored leather bag that makes comforting clinks with its absurdly large keychain collection.