What Went Down At The Telfar Rainbow Bag Drop

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Photographed by Landon Phillips

Dancers in full-body Morphsuits were in style in the wilds of Brooklyn on Sunday, as influencers and celebrities arrived in New York City in their limos and black vehicles to take advantage of fashion week’s glitz and exclusivity.

Telfar’s slogan is “Not for you—for everyone.” It calls attention to the struggles faced by the Black-owned New York business in trying to develop and maintain a “It bag” without any unwanted exclusivity. And on a Sunday afternoon, Telfar embraced this lofty yet democratic motto that was yelled through a megaphone to the thousands of jubilant customers thronging outside a Rainbow Shop. The brand had never done a real bag drop before; all of the prior events were online and quickly sold out.

In typical Telfar form, it was a counterprogramming to the gatekeeper-with-an-iPad events that populate the fashion week schedule — an event geared at the public and glorifying its mayhem.

The popular vegan-leather Shopping Bag, also known as the “Bushwick Birkin,” was designed by 37-year-old Liberian American designer Telfar Clemens and goes for $150 to $257. A-listers like Beyoncé and Dua Lipa have been spotted carrying it.

Around three o’clock, the scene resembled a Black Friday department store sale. There were several NYPD officers outside, closely monitoring the situation. For TelfarTV, the company’s 24-hour broadcast channel, and IG Live, a director used a high-up camera crane to record the whole event. In pastel-colored bags, caps, and soon-to-be-released boots, masked dancers vogued and death-dropped. Like Billy Porter on the dance drama Pose, the TelfarTV hosts emceed the event with spectacular flair and enthusiasm.

Telfar’s Shopping Bags.Credit…Rebecca Smeyne for The New York Times

Born and bred in Queens, Mr. Clemens is the recipient of the CFDA’s American Accessories Designer of the Year Award and appeared on the cover of Time in a story by Solange Knowles for the publication’s 100 Next list in 2021.

Despite the brand’s growth in recent years, Mr. Clemens has made an effort to maintain it approachable. That meant skipping the typical fashion week display on Sunday afternoon and replacing it with a one-day pop-up at Rainbow where customers could purchase up to five of the illusive bags in any size or color.

Many customers cited the choice to organize the event at a Rainbow branch as evidence of Telfar’s emphasis on inclusion.

Courtesy of Thuan Tran

Speaking to Vogue, an aspiring designer said:  “I personally don’t own a Telfar, and a lot of my friends have for the last couple of years,” she said, speaking over the music and buzzing crowd. “And I just struggled with getting it online. I was like, okay, this is the perfect opportunity. I didn’t have work today. So, I just pushed all my responsibilities out of the way.” According to her she intended to buy a medium painter’s blue bag for herself and a medium azalea bag for her neighbor. She had been waiting for four hours.

Courtesy of Thuan Tran

Talking to NYTimes, Brooklyn resident Sunny Henry, 19, said she planned to one day store the bags as vintage keepsakes for her children. Sunny Henry was able to obtain the Shopping Bag in the fashionable black, green, and cream.

Courtesy of Thuan Tran

This lively kind of shopping continued until all the bags were used up around 7:30 p.m. More than a thousand people would need to return home empty-handed. However, Clemens descended from his perch with some heartening news. On September 23, all sizes and colors of bags will be dropped online. He emphasized, “And they will ship out right away. People who had just just acquired bags were among the cheering mob.

Courtesy of Thuan Tran
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