For years, the “made in” label has been shorthand for certain stereotypes. Quality in craftsmanship, in materials, in taste if it’s “Made in Italy” or “Made in France.” Mass labor, mass markets and mass counterfeits is it’s “Made in China” or “Made in Bangladesh.” Whether these labels are based in reality or simply emanations of a joint consumer fantasy is increasingly debatable.
So what to make of a handbag that is “Made in Peru” … and Portugal and India and China? Not only that, but one that is a mash-up of an Hermès Birkin, a Celine Luggage bag, a Dior Saddle Bag and a Balenciaga Hourglass?
Such is the Global Supply Chain Telephone Bag, the latest piece of fashion performance art from the creative collective known as MSCHF.
Unveiled just in time for Fashion Month, the GSCTB is a Frankenstein accessory built via a telephone game of design in four far-flung countries and intended, like most of what MSCHF does, to expose consumer myths about concepts like “value,” “authenticity” and “style.” By elevating the links in the supply chain to the role of designer, the collective is skewering the whole idea of the It bag and dupe culture.
To that end, the exercise is both sophomoric and profound, like most of MSCHF’s work, an approach that has brought the group something of a cult following with collectors who include Tony Fadell, a creator of the iPod and iPhone, and Tierra Whack, the rapper.
The MSCHF makers started to think about the GSCTB about a year ago, after they designed a backward shoe (currently for resale on StockX for $430). A factory saw their specs, assumed the designers had made a mistake and decided to “fix” the shoe.
“That was just wildly proactive,” said Gabriel Whaley, the chief executive and founder of MSCHF. Even though the factory was wrong, Mr. Whaley and Co. began to wonder what else factories were doing regarding products that consumers never saw. They decided to see what would happen if they put a whole design in a factory’s hands. Or four factories, in four notorious manufacturing countries.
At first, they experimented with sending factories vague directions for how to alter a bag’s shape. “We’d say, ‘Can you feminize this bag?’ Or “Can you make it more decorative?’” said Kevin Wiesner, a MSCHF creative director. “That seemed confusing. One prototype came back with an extension cord as a handle and some power outlets.” But they figured out that if they sent each supplier a blurry picture of a famous bag and asked them to use that as inspiration to alter a design, they would get the idea. Or an idea.
The result is an It bag chimera. One with the curves of the Hourglass, the handles of the Luggage, the asymmetry of the Saddle and the flap of the Birkin. It comes in leather with a twill lining and a detachable shoulder strap and it will be available in limited quantities on the MSCHF website in black, baby pink, Yves Klein blue or tangerine. The price? $650.
MSCHF is not worried, Mr. Whaley, said, about Hermès or Dior taking issue with the GSCTB. “As an object, it’s a comment on a process,” said John Belcaster, MSCHF’s in-house counsel (they get sued a lot). “And if construed also as a comment on other objects, Goldsmith v. Warhol provides space, as our bag is a complementary work, not a substitute,” he added, referring to a recent copyright case heard by the Supreme Court.
MSCHF’s partner factories are less sanguine, which is why they are not identified except by country, an omission that somewhat undercuts the point about elevating the links in the supply chain.
The GSCTB is the third handbag MSCHF has created, after the 2022 Made in Italy, Texas bag and the 2023 Microscopic Handbag, a teeny tiny version of a Louis Vuitton OnTheGo style. Along with sneakers — the wearable that shot MSCHF to notoriety when it created Jesus Shoes (Nike Air Max sneakers with holy water in the sole) and Satan Shoes (similar, but with a drop of blood inside) — accessories have become a growing area of their practice. The irony is that the more MSCHF satirizes consumer culture, the more consumable its work becomes. Last season, its Big Red Boots went viral during fashion week.
In any case, and not surprisingly, the bags and shoes have further sparked MSCHF’s interest in fashion, and the group is now experimenting with ready-to-wear. Fashion is paying attention. Around the day the GSCTB is scheduled to go on sale, Feb. 21, Mr. Whaley will be in Milan. He has a meeting with some big brand executives about a possible collaboration.
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