The ‘it’ bag obsession was greatly driven by marketing strategies that played up the desirability of an accessory du jour. In the 90s, fashion enthusiasts fixated on status symbol objects donned and worn by celebrities often photographed by paparazzi. It drove a phenomenal demand for luxury handbags, cleverly introduced to the market by famous individuals “casually carrying” designer arm candy while off duty.
Hefty price tags, the illusion of limited supply and of course, seeing these coveted pieces on your favorite celebrity were selling points that compelled us to wipe out a month’s salary. I was a 20-something assistant when I was first bit by the “It bag” bug in the early 2000s. Nicholas Ghesquiere had just reinvigorated Balenciaga with the introduction of the City bag. Stephen Sprouse’s graffiti, strewn all over Louis Vuitton bags had become perquisites of a truly chic outfit. Back then, eco-friendly or vegan options for a luxury ‘It bag’ was unheard of.
For someone willing to sacrifice rent for a new bag, it was hard to reconcile with the idea of buying accessories based off its sustainability ethos or impact on planet. For years, the only other sustainable options were bags made using raffia, fabric or recycled materials. I once invested on a bag made using paper leather in an attempt to consume fashion more responsibly. But in all honesty, the make and feel failed in comparison to the finer weaves and lush textures of a Bottega Veneta cabas tote. Raffia and other natural materials work beautifully during summer months, but where city or boardroom dressing was concerned, they lack the timeless elegance of a quilted Lady Dior or Chanel 2.55.
At the height of pandemic, friends who had amassed an impressive collection of It bags lamented, “What good are all these expensive bags now that we’re stuck home all week long? I would never take my Kelly to out for a grocery run only to drench it in alcohol when I get home.” Living and dressing in the new normal inspired a more conscious mindset for consuming fashion—luxury or otherwise. Instead of browsing for the newest It bag, chic, eco-friendly and innovative style options suddenly seemed more exciting.
A CLOSER LOOK AT LUXURY APPLES
The idea of an impeccably crafted bag made using apple peel first impressed as a lofty promise. But it is a vision that aims to change how we purchase and invest in premium goods that are truly sustainable.
Developed by designers and artisans in the ATOMY headquarters in Gdansk, Poland, use of apple peel leather for the creation of premium handbags rings in true luxury experience with conscience. This game-changing material, feels, holds moves and even smells like real high-quality leather. The ATOMY team elaborates, “Apple peel skin stands as an innovate, unique and ecological material made mainly of apple fibers. It is a natural by-product of fruit processing.” According to the team, materials are produced in Italy, using only renewable or biodegradable raw elements. Apple peel skin is PETA-approved and sourced from an apple farm in Bolzan, Italy.
CHIC A LA VEGAN
Sara King Moura, who oversees Marketing and Branding for ATOMY explains, “We know the misconception that we often find involving vegan leather. The goal was to evolve past that and present something not only desirable, but also marketable from a merchandising point of view.” The brand’s USP and DNA does not simply seek to standout, but also drive a shift in luxury fashion. “The goal was change the perception that consumers have about sustainable or vegan leather. Typically, these materials break or scratch easily. They also look cold or stiff. ATOMY wanted to design and develop a remarkably refined collection without compromising environment.”
After countless prototypes and samples, the label finally introduced its first vegan capsule collection that sets a new standard for responsible luxury. “It’s certainly attainable,” asserts Sara. “and we hope other brands follow suit.” The first line, which launched in 2020, was the Pineapple series. After a year, the team decided to look into other bio materials that would effect the same (if not better) texture, hold and density as that of the finest leather skins.
Apple peel skin, a superior replacement for fine leather, was then molded into the hero designs of the ATOMY archives. Timeless pieces like the Basket, Wave and Mini were reworked using these new eco-friendly skins. “Our creative director, Monika Szymanska, wanted to create bags that were able to speak to a new minimalism, a new level of purity. She wanted to create the atom of bags.”
LEAN IS LUXE
Pure forms that follow the shape of crescents, cubes and spheres allow the beauty in simplicity to shine through. They also showcase the stunning texture, finish and grain of vegan materials like apple peel. Clean silhouettes and minimalist sensibilities lend an architectural feel to each piece. A versatile palette of black, vanilla and caramel echo the brand’s distinct take on minimalism—effortless, unfiltered, enduring.
The company runs on the philosophy of “lean manufacturing.” From concept to creation, they endeavor to produce high quality products that put people and planet first. Shapes and silhouettes are determined based on ergonomic considerations. The idea is to create universal and season-less pieces that stay relevant through the years. “Our first inspiration were leather bags that belonged to our grandfather and mother, that survived generations.”
The team adds, “We do not generate waste. The smallest piece of leather from production is reused for smaller items or parts.” Similarly, all the hand-sewn accessories are manufactured locally.
When I placed an order for a Vegan Basket bag, the online shop prompted an estimated five to 14 days sewing time. Pieces are all made upon order so as to help reduce over production to wasteful inventory. From a consumer’s standpoint, custom made items create a deep sense of connectedness to the brand and the people behind it. With shipping worldwide, the ATOMY Vegan Basket arrived at my doorstep a few weeks following. And just like any coveted “it” bag it was thoughtfully encased in a massive, minimalist inspired box with a gorgeous dust bag. Inside, there was a handwritten note from the team and a tag that detailed production of the bag.
The ATOMY team is invested in supporting its consumer’s journey towards more responsible consumption of luxury fashion. It also believes that a large component of its creative process relies on the growth and development of its community. “We believe that supporting regional creativity is not only an investment in community, it also shapes greater consumer awareness.”
Since launching its vegan capsule collection in late April, the label has made its way to international markets like Spain, UK and US. By Fall, pieces from ATOMY will be available to French customers at Printemps. The company is also currently working with London based rental platform, ROTARO for a rent, reduce and repeat business model.