When designer bags enter a discussion, there are just some items you categorically cannot miss. You’ve got Chanel’s 2.55, Louis Vuitton’s Speedy, Dior’s Lady Dior, and of course, Hermes’ Birkin. All classics. One piece that’s just as iconic yet different from the rest is Balenciaga’s City Bag. Also known as the Motorcycle City Bag, this edgy leather bag with a lived-in vibe has proven to be a go-to piece since it’s birth in 2001. It’s baffling given its peak popularity in the early 2000s, a time when oversized bags, studs, and heavy hardware rocked the market. But perhaps some things do turn out to be classics.
Here, we rediscover the mystique behind the ever-alluring Balenciaga City Bag and the reasons why you should (or shouldn’t) purchase one yourself:
What is the Balenciaga City Bag?
Launched in 2001, the Balenciaga City Bag was perhaps the first of its kind: a slouchy piece of leather with no structure, overwrought with studs, buckles, zippers, and tassels. Very different from the structured baby bags and logo-centered pieces that celebrities loved at the time. The bag features a basic rectangular shape and twin handles, while the said hardware comes in silver, gold, or tonal.
Now, pieces from that era can still be purchased online. However, Balenciaga does not produce City bags with that exact design anymore. The brand does produce “Neo Classic” bags—they’re City bags but structured.
Who designed the Balenciaga City Bag?
Nicholas Ghesquière was the creative director at the time the City was released. After coming up with the design, he showed it to management who weren’t happy with the design. As a compromise, Ghesquiere created 25 prototypes to be handed out to models who liked the design when they had seen it at the studio. (Early influencer gifting!) And so, the rest was history. The most notable sighting of the City bag was Kate Moss who, given her influence, could be credited to have started the craze.
In a 2011 WWD interview, Nicholas responded to why the bag is so successful: “No logo. Very light. Very effective. There is something familiar with the vintage side. Women and girls thought it was something they'd always have. It was a new, fresh thing, but it looked like an old, good, friendly thing.”
What are the different kinds of Balenciaga City Bag?
The premiere City bag designs can still be bought online, on websites like Farfetch and SSENSE. Balenciaga only carries the revamped, modernized version of the City which is the aforementioned Neo Classic. This design is much like its predecessor, in that it comes in a bevy of colors and hardware, which is one of the very reasons why people loved the City so much. There’s a wide selection of sizes—mini, nano, small, medium, and large—for various occasions and needs. There’s also an array of leather to choose from, like grained calfskin, “used” calfskin (for that lived in effect), and crocodile embossed calfskin.
As for the raved about colors, there are the usual neutrals like black, white, and beige, but also bolder hues like hot pink, orange, green, and red. The bags come in gold hardware, silver hardware, or tonal hardware.
What’s the difference between the classic City and the Neo Classic?
The Neo Classic is a structured version of the City Bag. The placement of the studs and zippers are exactly the same as the City. The main difference is the leather. Neo Classic doesn’t have versions with “aged leather” that’s exactly like the City. Plus, the tassels aren’t as languid as they used to be. In a word, the Neo Classic is the perkier, upbeat sister of the City.
1. City Tote Bag
When one thinks of “Balenciaga City,” chances are the first thing that comes to mind is a black piece with silver hardware. (Fun fact: the very first City bags only came in black and brown!) With a top zip closure, top handles, an internal compartment, and a detachable shoulder strap, the City, as the name suggests, is a hardworking piece perfect for roughing out the day’s work.
City Tote Bag, $2210 (approximately P106,635), BALENCIAGA, farfetch.com
2. Neo Classic Small Top Handle Bag
The Small Neo Classic has dimensions of 13 inches (length), 6.1 inches (width), and 8.2 inches (height). It’s big enough to bring to work if you don’t carry around a ton of stuff, but small enough to become a weekend bag.
Neo Classic Small Top Handle Bag, $2250 (approximately P108,565), BALENCIAGA, balenciaga.com
3. Neo Classic Mini
The mini size has dimensions of 8.6 inches (length), 4.3 inches (width), and 5.5 inches (height). Great for those who aren’t fans of oversized bags or for those who like to carry only the essentials.
Neo Classic Mini Top Handle Bag, $1850 (approximately P89,264), BALENCIAGA, balenciaga.com
4. Neo Classic Nano
The smallest size of the gang is the Nano (yes, there’s a size smaller than the mini and that’s because we live in the 2020’s!). It’s got dimensions of 8 inches (length), 2.5 inches (width), and 5 inches (height). It can be used to contrast an androgynous outfit, or simple to carry your phone and lipstick on nights out.
Pink Croc Nano City Bag, $1530 (approximately P73,824), BALENCIAGA, ssense.com
4. Neo Classic Medium Top Handle Bag
The medium size has dimensions of 17.3 inches (length), 7.8 inches (width), and 9.8 inches (height). It’s spacious interior and adjustable, removable shoulder strap make it a shoo-in for a go-to travel bag.
Neo Classic Medium Top Handle Bag, $2550 (approximately P123,040), BALENCIAGA, balenciaga.com
5. Neo Classic Large
The large size has dimensions of 21.2 inches (length), 9.4 inches (width), and 13.3 inches (height). At this size, the structured design is reflective of the current direction of Balenciaga under the helm of Demna Gvasalia: youthful and a little outlandish.
Neo Classic Large Top Handle Bag, $3290 (approximately P158,746), BALENCIAGA, balenciaga.com
How much is the Balenciaga City Bag?
The Nano size retails for $1550, while the Mini size is priced at $2150. The Small fetches around $2250 to $2390 depending on the leather used. The Medium costs $2550 while the Large fetches up to $3290.
As for the classic City bags of the early 2000s, these are usually priced from $1000 to $2000 on online platforms.
Why is it so expensive?
Balenciaga bags are made in Italy. Like all designer bags, what makes City bags expensive is not just the leather but the brand name. And with an item as popular and classic as the City, don’t expect prices to drop anytime soon. On another note, when compared to other designer handbags which can cost up to $5000 to $6000, the City and the Neo Classic are relatively cheaper.
Is the Balenciaga City Bag worth it?
With its edgy appeal and lived in effect, not everyone fancies the City bag. But as seen in its decades-old tenure, perhaps that’s exactly what grants the City its merit. Devotees of the bag would agree that much like a leather jacket, the City is something that gets better over time: The leather looks more loved, the shape looks softer, and the aged hardware looks just as cool as ever. It’s this durability and timelessness that makes the City a fan favorite. Plus, with it’s bevy of colors and sizes, there’s literally one for every personality. In a word, it’s definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a not-too-glamorous bag that can stand the test of time.