Though 22-year-old Tariq Kanu is standing in front of a leafy grapevine at Boordy Vineyards in Maryland, the only colorful flowers on display radiate from his red and green floral-printed shirt. This style shot, which he’ll later Instagram, is accessorized with a gold watch, black sunglasses, beige kicks and a navy blue handbag teetering in the crux of his right index finger.
It’s the handbag, of course, that brings the whole look together. “It was the perfect color I needed for the fit,” he tells me. “Some outfits just need a bag as an accessory, and this was one of them.”
It’s not just any handbag either — it’s the Telfar Shopping Bag, or “Bushwick Birkin,” a monochrome vegan leather handbag embossed with the brand’s circular logo and a favorite of celebs like Selena Gomez, A$AP Ferg and Dua Lipa. As such, the bag is constantly sold out, which only makes it more sought-after. Last week, however, the brand launched a Bag Security Program, a 24-hour flash sale pre-order for the Shopping Bag in three sizes. Telfar guaranteed that whoever bought one (or, as it turned out, multiple) would receive their purchase(s) before January 15, 2021.
Instead of maintaining social currency by way of scarcity, Telfar is quickly becoming the people’s luxury house by meeting demand and offering relatively low prices for designer goods (in this case, $150 for the small Shopping Bag and $257 for the large). This is largely due to the company’s namesake, Telfar Clemens. He’s marketed his clothes as unisex, expanding the brand’s demographic and receiving praise for a savvy business move at a time when the coronavirus is decimating fast-fashion. Even Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has publicly supported the Queens-born, Nigerian-American gay designer’s handbag by sporting it in the Capitol Building.
To own something from Telfar is to bankroll the real deal version of the American Dream. “I saw a Black business and instantly wanted to support it, so I did,” says Da’Zhaun Hawkins, 21, who has been on the Telfar train since January.
A welcome result of the Telfar magic is that it’s changing the course of luxury accessories in menswear by not giving a fuck about masculinity. “I was never a watch, hat, necklace — let alone handbag — type of guy,” Kanu, who is waiting on his bags in white and black to arrive, tells me. “But I’m more recently not allowing gender norms to influence what I want to wear.”
In fairness, Supreme and Off-White did push male bags forward first. The trendy streetwear labels revitalized fanny packs and cross-body bags as stylish, covetable unisex accessories, with Jaden Smith and Robert Pattinson among the famous men who slung them around their waists and chests.
Still, arguably the biggest influence on male accessorizing comes by way of our strongest boys — i.e., professional athletes. The most stylish among them have proven time and again that their masculinity and physical prowess aren’t threatened by a leather clutch. Case in point: Russell Westbrook partnered with Tumi on a collection of bright red accessories in 2017, while Carmelo Anthony, DeAndre Hopkins and Kevin Love have balled out for the best Dopp kits.
All of which has helped retire the odious term “murse.” Instead, masculine-identifying individuals like Darrin Brown, 26, are stocking up on stylish goods and ignoring pointless labels. He secured his first Telfar in the color black in March, and he’s since snagged two more on pre-order — one in orange with tan and a secondary black bag.
“The brand is for everyone, so hopefully everyone can feel okay expressing themselves however they want to,” he says.
Besides, there’s only one label that really matters — Telfar.