The Allure of the "Midrange" Bag


When Beyoncé tells you she's exiling her Birkin bags to storage, you listen. "This Telfar bag imported, Birkins, them shits in storage," she repeats on "Summer Renaissance,” the final song from her dance-infused album Renaissance (2022). The Hermès Birkin, which is notoriously hard to get and is infamously one of the most expensive bags in the world, has become a symbol of a certain level of wealth that charters private jets with a money manager on speed dial. 

As most Beyoncé-related things tend to do, such a strong stance on the Birkin bag split the internet, with some agreeing that they’re over the idolization and oversaturation of Birkins while others insist on its timeless credibility. But it's also worth noting that in the lyrics, it's not another glitzy designer that's supposedly supplanted the $10,000 Birkin, but rather, a $200 Telfar bag. 

Though the lyrics may be in jest, it signals something larger happening in the world of luxury: a growing embrace from the obscenely exorbitant to a more "modest" form of luxury. And leading the charge is a burgeoning circuit of brands designing bags that embody the quality construction of their higher-priced counterparts but at roughly half the cost. Thoughtfully designed, this class of midrange luxury bags differs from the affordable leather totes that propelled its predecessors like Coach decades ago. With whimsical shapes and elevated designs, these bags almost feel bespoke—the quality virtually indistinguishable from ones emblazoned with a shiny big-name logo. 


(Image credit: Courtesy of Ree Projects; Courtesy of Ratio Et Motus; Courtesy of Osoi; Courtesy of Yuzefi)

While the higher end of luxury is still a booming business—conglomerates like LVMH and Kering boast strong profits each year, to the tune of $86 billion in LVMH’s case, according to a 2022 report—the aspirational It bag is shifting downmarket. Spending the equivalent of a rent check isn't the point here, and the runaway success of designs like Staud's Moon Bag and BY FAR's Billy Bag has shown that a $400 bag can be every inch as covetable and can galvanize a clan of A-list celebrities just as well a $4000 one. "These brands are nailing trends and make it easy to diversify and perfect my wardrobe more often than if I were to invest in a pricey, luxury accessory," says Shopbop's Head of Accessories, Allison Reilly. "They’re making luxury more attainable."

TikTok has, in part, fueled the fire. After a series of viral videos endorsing its quality over other well-known luxury bags, French accessories label Polène has gone from an unknown to an It brand almost overnight. But Polène is just one of several names to follow this "getting more for less" pathway to mainstream relevance. The brands below are dismantling the status quo of luxury as unattainable. From Paris to London and Seoul, meet the names glamourizing the midrange bag…


(Image credit: Courtesy of Yuzefi)

Mood: Day-to-night bags in whimsical shapes

Price Range: $$

Founded: 2016 by Naza Yousefi

Signature Style: The Fortune Cookie

Food-adjacent names aside, Yuzefi isn't coy about having fun. Founded by Naza Yousefi in 2016, the brand hit its stride with perfectly slanted and abstract handbags formed with origami-like precision. In a post-COVID, back-to-the-office world, designers have taken to revisiting the classic, functional work bag, but Yuzefi is more of a play-first approach with styles like the Fortune Cookie—a shoulder bag folded like its namesake—or the Dinner Roll—an oblong mini bag that rivals the best baguettes from Balthazaar (sans the butter).

Now, should utility be first on your list, the Mochi—a winged tote with a delightful cinch in the middle—can bear the brunt of busy workdays just as well as any pragmatic "work bag." Riding on the success of her mood-boosting bags, Yousefi has expanded into clothing, with a range of ready-to-wear pieces that boast a similar playful ethos. 


(Image credit: Courtesy of Ree Projects)

Mood: Artful carry-all bags

Price Range: $$$

Founded: 2016 by Desiree Kleinen

Signature Style: The Helene Hobo

Desiree Kleinen has been engaging with the concept of quiet luxury long before it became a trending hashtag on TikTok. Kleinen's bags are intentionally understated and low-key—they're almost completely devoid of an identifiable logo, with the exception of a small stamp that bears its brand name. There's no hardware designed into any of Ree Project's styles, but unassuming, they are not. One touch reveals buttery soft leather and expert-level construction that directly challenges if good bags really do need to cost so much. Ree Projects also has the distinction of being one of the few Black-owned bag brands on the market.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Ratio Et Motus)

Mood: Structured bags grounded in inclusivity

Price Range: $$

Founded: 2018 by Angela Wang and Shenghao Li

Signature Style: The Twin Frame

Born in New York City, Ratio et Motus is derived from the Latin translation for "sense and emotion." From a gun holster–inspired bag to an attached, double bag called the Twin Frame, the brand dabbles in the dance of contrasts: between hard and soft, structured and fluid, and feminine and masculine. And the New York sensibilities are apparent throughout, like in its latest campaign, which features the bags in urban settings: plopped on a stack of chairs on a sidewalk, and on New Yorkers wearing hoodies on the street. There's a sense that Ratio et Motus is what cool people are actually wearing. Despite the brand's less buttoned-up approach, the bags themselves are made from sustainable Italian calf leather. 


Mood: Less is more

Price Range: $$

Founded: 2012 by Paulina Liffner von Sydow

Signature Style: The Tulip

Little Liffner has already built somewhat of a cult following—particularly among stylish working women. And Little Lifner's appeal isn't hard to get. They're polished and elegant in that effortless, Scandinavian type of way, making them a perfect pairing for someone who has a calendar full of work appointments by day and a string of parties by night. Most bags—including its famous Tulip Tote—are priced just under $600, an intentional move by founder Paulina Liffner.

"There are lots of more interesting ways to spend a month’s salary than on a handbag," she told Vogue in 2021. Sticking to that ethos means keeping a high standard of quality at a fair price, so it's not difficult to amass a full collection of them.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Osoi)

Mood: Curvy with a hard edge

Price Range: $$

Founded: 2016 by Heejin Kang

Signature Style: The Toni

Requirements for becoming a part of the Osoi tribe include a quirky sense of style and an appreciation for the nostalgic. The entry point to getting one of Osoi's It bags is $400 (not counting them on sale), a rarity for a popular emerging brand. Its affordability is one pro but it's the saturated leather in dazzling shades of orange and pink, as well as the unusual shapes, that make people want to buy them. A direct translation from the Japanese word for "slow,” Osoi digs into that concept with the aim of creating bags that don't fall out of trend season after season.

For some designers, "timeless” means creating the same boxy tote in an array of basic neutrals, but Osoi isn't afraid to take risks. The bags are chubby, round, and slightly abstract, which makes the act of carrying them a joy. 


(Image credit: Courtesy of Aesther Kane)

Mood: Austere and utilitarian

Price Range: $

Founded: 2016 by Stephane Park

Signature Style: The Demi Lune

Take away the logos, the flashy hardware, and distracting patterns and you get Aesther Ekme. The brand is a minimalist's fantasy—the outcome of stripping away the gratuitous and creating more with less. For a brand that's distinctly having a moment, they're ironically anti–It bags, which, according to founder Stephane Park, was the purpose. "A bag shouldn’t overshadow your personal style, it should blend in seamlessly. And on its own, it should be timeless," she told the Scandinavia Standard.

For those that feel alienated by The Row's lofty price point, it's a welcomed alternative. "I get so many questions when I wear my Aesther Ekme bag. Since it's so timeless it supersedes trends and will be in my closet long-term. If you like the Row but you're on a budget, this is the brand for you." says Who What Wear associate fashion editor Sierra Mayhew.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Staud)

Mood: Trend-Forward and Playful

Price Range: $

Founded: 2015 by Sarah Staudinger and George Augusto

Signature Style: The Moon Bag

One of the most popular labels defining the midrange space is Staud. Named after former Reformation designer Sarah Staudinger, intrinsic to the Staud DNA is its cheerful approach to trends. Every collection includes some type of bedazzled or beaded style, and the shapes are more cute than conventional, but they're never too trendy that the average consumer feels intimidated to pull off wearing one. Take the Moon Bag—an semicircular structural hobo—which hit such a perfect balance of approachability and eccentricity that the season it released, it was on the arm of every editor during fashion month. Staud's success has now earned it the distinction of being more than an accessory-focused company—it shows regularly on the fashion week calendar with a collection of ready-to-wear pieces.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Polène)

Mood: Expensive-looking details and versatile shapes

Price Range: $$

Founded: 2016 by Antoine, Elsa, and Mathieu Mothay

Signature Style: The Numero Dix

Polène has the pedigree of a heritage brand born over a hundred years ago. After actually touching one of its plush leather bags, you'd still think the same. That being said, the French company is barely 10 years old, and it's growing into a cult brand thanks to the chronically online. With 40 million hashtags and counting currently on TikTok, Polène unboxings on the social media app are about as frequent as users sharing their latest Chanel.

While Polène's rise has been gradual, its viral moment can partly be attributed to leather expert Tanner Leatherstein, a popular TikTok creator known for literally cutting up and deconstructing luxury bags to assess their quality. Many well-known designer bags don't pass his test, but Leatherstein gave Polène his seal of recommendation, thus cementing its viral status. "Word of mouth remains the main purchase driver for the brand’s consumers," says founder Antoine Mothay. Modest pricing also helps energized shoppers who are tired of annual price increases and decreasing quality. Mothay credits this to a direct-to-consumer approach. "Everything is done in-house, from design and sourcing to PR and customer service, and our products are sold uniquely in our stores and on our website. We do not work with wholesalers; we have cut out the middleman not only to control the brand image but also to offer our products at the fairest price possible," he says.


(Image credit: Courtesy of BY FAR)

Mood: Celerity-adjacent with early noughties influences

Price Range: $$

Founded: 2016 by Sabina Gyosheva Denitsa Bumbarova and Valentina Ignatova

Signature Style: The Amber Bag

A surefire way to get your brand some exposure in 2023? Get Hailey Bieber or Kendall Jenner to wear it. BY FAR has done that several times. Initially launched with block-heeled boots, in seven years BY FAR has managed to turn itself into a go-to label for millennial, paparazzi-keen celebs, and its growth has been rapid. Just within the past year, it has launched eyewear, a fragrance (with Kendall Jenner starring in the campaign) and opened a flagship store on a prime strip of Melrose in Los Angeles.

But despite the multiple endeavors, trendy It-girl bags are the baseline of what makes the brand so beloved. From purple holographic leather to studded embellished logos, BY FAR's overall aesthetic flirts with the experimental. The bags are usually just big enough to carry a lipstick and a small wallet, true to the small shoulder-bag craze that defined the '90s and early aughts. (Heck, there’s even a bag named after Rachel Green from Friends.) Being devoted to a small bag is a lifestyle, after all.


(Image credit: Courtesy of Neous)

Mood: Timeless glamour with a hint of edge

Price Range: $$$

Founded: 2017 by Vanissa Antonious and Alan Buanne

Signature Style: The Jupiter

Beloved by fashion editors and worn by stylish women from Paris to New York, Neous—an Alan Buanne and Vanissa Antonious project—is rethinking the meaning of heritage. A rather huge undertaking for a fairly new brand, Neouse has the right idea: great, wearable accessories that are within reach. And it's working. The brand has cracked the code for developing both a successful shoe and handbag line (it's rare for new companies to be equally successful at both), and its bags are everywhere from Net-a-Porter to Shopbop. Although minimalism is Neous's design MO, it doesn't eschew subtle glamourous elements or trend-forward silhouettes like its competitors in the market. 


(Image credit: Courtesy of Marge Sherwood)

Mood: Early aughts–Inspired

Price: $ Founded: 2016 by Sungeun Um and Soonyoung Kim

Signature Style: The Besette

Y2K aesthetics are as ubiquitous as oat milk lattes right now. A name that nails it best is Marge Sherwood. The Korean brand is known for cute, little bags that hark back to the days of low-rise pants and bedazzled tees, but it’s never so literal that it feels like a direct rip from the past. Instead, there are interesting details to make them feel modern, such as pink suede or contrast stitching. The Korean brand is sold at stores like Ssense and Urban Outfitters, which is sort of a cool stamp of approval on its own, and naturally, those familiar with the indie brand scene are already all over it.

Next: I Found the Jackpot of Trendy Basics, and I'm Telling Everyone Who'll Listen

This post was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.

Fashion Market Editor

Indya Brown is a fashion editor, stylist, and writer living in Los Angeles. While going to school at Columbia University in New York City, she got her feet wet in the fashion industry interning at Elle magazine, Harper's Bazaar, and New York magazine's The Cut. After graduating in 2016, she joined The Cut as a fashion assistant, eventually working her way up to fashion editor. There, she worked on a multitude of projects, including styling inbook feature stories for New York magazine's print issue, writing and pitching market stories for The Cut, and serving as fashion lead for The Cut's branded content. While New York has been her home for over 10 years, she moved to Los Angeles in the midst of the pandemic in 2020 for a new chapter. Now she is a fashion market editor for Who What Wear, focusing on emerging designers, rising trends on and off the internet, interior design, and BIPOC creatives and brands. Aside from her duties as a fashion market editor, Brown is also a freelance stylist and writer, working on national print and video commercial campaigns for Sephora, The Independent, and Cadillac. Her bylines also include Harper's Bazaar, Vox, and The New York Times. But once the computer goes down and the emails turn off, she's likely eating her way through Koreatown, hunting down vintage furniture, scoping out new outrageous nail designs to try, or taking a hot cycling class.