Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Treachery of Images

René Magritte: The Treachery of Images

René Magritte's famous picture of a pipe sits above the declaration,"Ceci n'est pas une pipe." (This is not a pipe). Called The Treachery of ImagesMagritte's intention was to show that the painting was not a pipe, but merely a depiction of one. It sounds like an obvious thing to say. After all, our eyes can see that the pipe Magritte has painted isn't real, and yet he makes a very interesting point. Throughout history, artists have given titles to their works. Portraits are very often given the name of the sitter, landscapes are given the name of the place they were painted, but is it accurate to attach these titles? Would it perhaps be more fitting to do as Magritte did...?

The Together Bag, $35 USD from Thursday Friday: the poor woman's Birkin?

This brings me to the image above. This is the Together Bag from American retailer Thursday Friday. It's essentially nothing more than a simple canvas shopping bag, and no doubt a useful receptacle for carrying lunch, books, shopping and anything too big to fit in a smaller handbag. But in a "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" style, this is a bag bearing images of Hermès iconic Birkin bag, and not just on two sides. This Birkin pastiche is viewable from all sides (even underneath).

So how much will Thursday Friday's bag set you back? Why, a humble $35 USD.

Olena Sholomytska, co-creator of Thursday Friday says of the Together Bag, "...we ended up with a surreal design that references luxury but is ultimately an anti-status status symbol."

I see (and applaud) the surrealism of the bag: it's quirky, fun and yes, given that Hermès has traditionally maintained an immensely long waiting list for a genuine Birkin, this is a reasonably priced piece that should be accessible to many more people. As Sholomytska says, " anti-status symbol." But is it?

So in other words, a bag which is meant to be an anti-status symbol is effectively nothing like. To my mind at least, emblazoning a cotton bag with the image of a well-known product does not a powerful symbol make. In fact, the Together Bag is really just the same as any other counterfeit product on the market. Does a fake Louis Vuitton purse bought in a Turkish market therefore also become an anti-status symbol, all because the genuine article carries a hefty price tag? As a surrealist piece, the Together Bag works, but as a satirical one, it falls flat on its face.

Here is the other snag: the $35 Together Bag carries with it a three month waiting list (less than a year after Hermès announced they would be doing away with their own waiting list policy). A quick visit to the Thursday Friday site confirms this:

"The Together bag in BLUE is again on back order and will ship starting in March. We ship older orders first, so please place yours now for priority on our waiting list.  If you place an order, you will be advised of the exact ship date at a later stage."

While I can well understand the interest in a bag that depicts one of the ultimate luxury fashion pieces, I can't help but wonder about that three month waiting list. It's entirely possible that supply cannot keep pace with demand, but if we look at it speculatively from another angle, it becomes a very savvy marketing ploy. After all, Hermès created a waiting list in order to limit supply and thus increase demand ,which consequently fuelled the fires of interest. There is nothing to say that it couldn't work for the Together Bag, too.

The "Anti-status symbol" essentially becomes the high-status-anti-status-symbol(!) as shoppers compete to secure a place on Thursday Friday's waiting list. Yet however expensive and hard to come by a genuine Birkin might be, it will undoubtedly prevail long after the Together Bag has fallen apart at the seams, scattered your books and lunch all over the pavement and disappeared from memory.

Image courtesy of


  1. Status symbols and anti-status symbols with waiting lists are for people who are insecure about their status. Personally I prefer things without any identifiable labels at all. Your post is so thoughtful and beautifully written Laura. Sorry I've been out of the loop this week.

  2. I would think that the 3 month waiting list is a gimmick...but one that will probably work. Everyone seems to want what every one else has - something that used to annoy me to no end, but no longer does. With age I've come to accept it as human nature. (Not mine, of course...hee hee.)

  3. Fantastic writing! Whether it's the original or the anti-status symbol bag, I simply don't think a bag (it's a bag! it's not a cure for cancer!) is worth a waiting list. Simple as that. Your writing is great though and well worth waiting for...awww ;-) Have a great week, Love from London xo PS: replied to your mail :-)

  4. Ingrid - I'm also sorry for being out of the loop, too! Nice to see you here (as always) though. I'm rather impatient, so waiting to buy a bag would drive me crazy I think!

    Catherine - It's funny isn't it? Whether the waiting list is a gimmick or not, it's going to be even longer now!

    Carole - Hello! Thank you for writing such lovely things. I never seem to blog half as much as I would like, but am so glad you enjoy the updates when I do!