The Balenciaga Motorcycle Bag Is Forever
Even after 20 years, the classic handbag has continued to retain its cult status.
It’s been almost two decades since I first laid eyes on the Balenciaga Motorcycle bag. It was 2004, to be exact, and the bag was hooked in the crook of Mary-Kate Olsen’s arm. The paparazzi shot in question was taken during the zenith of the Olsens’ NYU years, when the twins were the epitome of downtown cool, and the Motorcycle, their emblem. I was 13, and from behind the screen of my family’s desktop computer, I coveted the bag feverishly. Nearly 20 years later, the Motorcycle, now called the City, still holds the same pull — and not just for myself, but for generations of fashion fans.
Designer Nicolas Ghèsquiere launched the Motorcycle bag in 2001, near the beginning of his 15-year-long tenure at Balenciaga. The bag, crafted from supple black lambskin and with rugged hardware details, was initially created as a runway prototype. Only 25 were manufactured, and fresh off the Fall/Winter 2001 catwalk, the bags were gifted to a handful of models, editors and friends of Ghèsquiere. Among them were Vogue Paris’ Carine Roitfeld and Emmanuelle Alt, stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé, and of course, model Kate Moss. One season later, with the fashion set’s seal of approval, the bags went into production. But that was just the beginning.
Despite the bag’s associations with the Olsen twins, it was actually Kate Moss who launched the Motorcycle to It bag-dom. Throughout the early aughts, the supermodel remained a devotee to her 2001 Motorcycle and was frequently papped wearing it — with UGGs and low-rise jeans — around London. The sturdy, unbranded accessory was a departure from the teensy, logo-emblazoned It bags of Y2K, like the dainty Dior Saddle and Fendi Baguette. Across the pond, in New York, the style caught on. And in 2004, Mary-Kate picked up her own version in mint green.
Much has been written about Mary-Kate’s Motorcycle bag. (The actor-turned-designer has, after all, been toting it around for nearly two decades.) The bag carried Mary-Kate through her NYU years, where at one point — as Twitter fans are keen to point out — it survived a wine spill (or two.) A 2006 W Magazine article described the bag in all its dingy glory: covered in “pen marks and even a chewed-up piece of gum,” so grimy it “look[ed] almost gray.” When the interviewer commented on the bag’s worn-out state, Mary-Kate replied, “It explains my life.”
From the mid to late 2000s, the Motorcycle was a bona fide tabloid staple, snapped hanging on the elbows of aughts It girls including Lindsay Lohan, Sienna Miller, Nicky Hilton, Kim Kardashian and Nicole Richie, who owned the bag in blue, green, ivory and Tweety Bird yellow.
By the 2010s, the bag’s buzz had fizzled, but it hadn’t been entirely extinguished — especially among a new crop of It girls. In 2011, newly Oscar-nominated actor Rooney Mara wore hers in classic black. Two years later, fledgling model Kendall Jenner followed suit.
Then, in 2016, over a decade since its debut, Mary-Kate resurrected her iconic mint green Motorcycle. Now entirely threadbare and a pale pistachio, it was a harbinger of things to come. Fashion editors and Olsen stans alike were quick to prophesy the second coming of the legendary bag. Four years later, Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia launched the Neo Classic, breathing new life into the 2000s Motorcycle with modern proportions. It was a matter of time — September 2021, in fact — before vintage versions began cropping up on the sidewalks and front rows of New York Fashion Week.
Balenciaga’s latest reimagining of the iconic 00s bag has ushered the Motorcycle back to the tabloids, and perhaps more importantly, to the tops of our social media feeds. Launched for Pre-Fall 2021, Le Cagole distills the rugged spirit of the beloved carryall — signature hardware and all — into a compact and curved, Insta-friendly package. Last summer, Bella Hadid was one of the first to be spotted carrying the croissant-shaped bag — in Paris, appropriately enough. During her whirlwind tour de Couture Week, Julia Fox accessorized her denim Schiaparelli tuxedo with a Cagole as jet-black as her signature eyeshadow. Alongside Kim K, the bag starred in Balenciaga’s recent campaign.
Although Le Cagole has captured the current zeitgeist, fashion fans are still coveting — and clamoring — for the real deal, the archival Motorcycle City styles of the 2000s. According to a report by Rebag, the City was one of the platform’s most-searched bags between November 2021 and January 2022, up a staggering 475% from the months prior. After 20 years, two decades since I first caught sight of Mary-Kate’s iconic pistachio purse, the cachet of the Motorcycle remains as hard-wearing as the bag itself. It bags may come and go, but the Balenciaga Motorcycle is forever.
Zoë Kendall is a writer and editor specializing in fashion and culture.