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“With the Bao Bao bag, in a way, it could have only been designed by Issey Miyake,” says Valerie Steele, the director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “It totally has his kind of sensibility, the way he uses materials, the way he thinks in terms of modernity, and functionality, and with an edge of the fact that traditional Japanese aesthetics do seem so modern and timeless and global now.”
Miyake, of course, is one of the most well-known and innovative fashion designers to have come out of The Land of the Rising Sun. He revolutionized the industry with his East-Meets-West avant-garde looks that constantly pushed the boundaries. A master of design, he also focused his talent on developing new production techniques and materials that were very often inspired by traditional Japanese elements.
In 2010, as part of his Pleats Please apparel line constructed of finely pleated fabrics, the designer debuted the “Bilbao bag” which later became the Bao Bao bag. It was named after the Spanish town that, in 1997, welcomed the modern Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. The bag went on to become the go-to accessory of design-savvy creatives. Comprised of small triangular resin pieces attached to a lightweight mesh fabric, the Bao Bao can be folded in an infinite number of ways each creating a new form. In 2010, the company finally launched it as a separate line, the Issey Miyake Bao Bao, which included bags and pouches that explored the concept of “shapes made by chance.” Since then, the original design has been re-invented multiple times including in 2016 when the signature triangular pieces were partly replaced with a variety of other interlocking shapes.
“It [the Bao Bao bag] is representative of the Issey Miyake genius: an ultra-useful utilitarian thing made expertly and just outré enough to give it a twist of difference that signifies the wearer’s own sophistication and creative tastes,” said Alessandra Codinha, the style director of Departures. “Plus, it works for everyone, and looks as good at fashion week as it does [at] the farmer’s market.”
It is exactly this blend of timeless style and function that has gained the bag a cult following. Compared to other iconic styles, the Bao Bao also comes at a much more accessible price point, which has turned it into a must-have accessory for the younger crowd and allowed it to remain current.
“The fact that it’s so functional is part of what modernism was always about—it was about form follows function. This one looks modern as well as serves as a functional bag. And because of that, it looks stylish, too,” adds Steele.
The Issey Miyake Bao Bao line now consists of several signature styles among which the Lucent, which is the classic, original style; the Prism, crafted with much smaller triangular pieces; the Platinum, made from mirrored triangles; and Slash, a favorite of jet-setters since the style can be completely flattened when it’s empty.
Now check out some of the best Bao Bao bags to shop right now.
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Prism Tote
Whether you are headed to brunch with friends or to a business meeting, this Prism tote will add a modern vibe to your look and help you carry your daytime essentials in style.
To buy: $595, saksfifthavenue.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Platinum Tote Bag
This tote is pure metallic perfection—it’s lightweight so you can carry it around all day long and looks so cool with its shimmering triangles.
To buy: $1,295, Nordstrom.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Small Carton Crossbody Bag
This pretty crossbody folds flat creating a square that can be conveniently packed in a suitcase.
To buy: $423, saksfifthavenue.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Issey Miyake Lucent Tote
This Lucent tote comes with a pair of adjustable handles for added functionality and sports triangles in black and blue.
To buy: $504, bloomingdales.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Medium Crystal Matte Tote
The Crystal series, of which this tote is a part of, combines luxurious leather used to make the straps and handles and textured triangle pieces. It also has plenty of pockets on the inside for your belongings.
To buy: $1,295, bloomingdales.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Tonneau Matte Shoulder Bag
Complement your night-out ensemble with the sleek Tonneau crossbody. It has a magnetic closure and enough room inside to fit all of your small essentials such as your phone, wallet, and keys.
To buy: $950, Nordstrom.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Stack Crossbody Bag
The hexagonal Stack clutch is a total showstopper—it is the perfect statement accessory that will freshen up any look.
To buy: $995, shopbaobaoisseymiyake.com
Bao Bao Issey Miyake Lucent Parade Tote Bag
The unique design of this new Lucent style was inspired by summer festivals and parades. It features a pair of adjustable handles and a zippered pocket for your small valuables.
To buy: $830, shopbaobaoisseymiyake.com