In 2019, San Francisco-based stylist and consultant Vivid Wu stopped by the Bottega Veneta store with the sole mission of trying on the Padded Cassette bag — a plumped-up, cushiony play on the signature intrecciato leather style for which the luxury brand is known. She fell in love with it immediately: the shape (a go-with-everything rectangle), the size (roomy enough to hold all her essentials), the style (classic with an irreverent twist) and, most importantly, how it looked on her (slung across her body, cradled in her arms, fallen from her shoulders). The only thing was, she wanted it in emerald green — her favorite color — which wasn't available in the store. She left empty-handed, but went on to buy the bag online a couple days later.
It hadn't been declared a trend just yet, but Wu knew that, with that pillowy purchase, she was onto something.
"I definitely saw [the trend] coming, as early as last year," she says. "When I bought my Bottega Veneta bag, the pillow bag trend was still so new, people weren't really aware of it."
Wu has since added to her collection, purchasing Coach's Pillow Tabby (also in green) in April. "I love that you can put a lot of things inside, but it doesn't look bulky, because that's the look," she says. "It's chic, it's puffy and it's soft to touch and squeeze. Now, everyone has a pillow bag — they're everywhere on social media."
Everywhere on social media and in every designer lineup, it seems.
Louis Vuitton recently unveiled a monogrammed menagerie of pillowy accessories inspired by its Pillow Boot from the Spring 2021 collection, featuring four bags and two fabric accessories that “"re infused with a warm, cozy spirit," according to a press blast from the brand. Telfar partnered with Canadian outerwear label Moose Knuckles to reimagine its cult-favorite shopper in bands of quilted nylon puff. Before that, Maison Martin Margiela began rolling out a line of oversized tufted Grand Slam bags in various shapes and colors to immense fanfare and street-style fame.
In addition to the aforementioned Bottega Veneta and Coach styles and on the other end of the size spectrum are Stand Studio's adorable diminutive "puffy" totes and Marshall Columbia's miniature plush purses with strands of glass beads. KASSL Editions modeled its own take on the style after a pillow; Leset's comes equipped with an actual pillow. Marc Jacobs also has a pillow bag — as does Prada, Proenza Schouler and Dries Van Noten.
Coach introduced its wildly successful Pillow Tabby — a remake of one of the brand's classic bag silhouettes — in February, with a star-studded campaign photographed by Juergen Teller. According to creative director Stuart Vevers, the style "was created during a time when my team and I were having honest conversations about how we were feeling at the start of the pandemic."
"We were craving comfort, security and especially touch — that thing that became so elusive when we couldn’t hug our families and friends," he says. "The idea to explore the Tabby in a soft, tactile nappa leather that is puffy like a pillow, that you instantly want to hug was very instinctive."
"I think the bag and its story have been successful because its inspiration was rooted in something real: our feelings during the pandemic," Vevers continues. "Ultimately, we wanted to create a bag that would make people feel good."
The pillow bag may be new in name, but not in concept. Monica Zwirner and Lucy Wallace Eustice of MZ Wallace, for instance, created an entire brand dedicated to padded, lightweight quilted designs. In 2015, Phoebe Philo showed a slew of puffer bags as part of the Céline Spring 2016 collection. And a few years later, Virgil Abloh sent out these enormous padded totes on the Off-White Fall 2019 runway.
The difference this time — between now and then, between present day and the Before Times — is, obviously, the pandemic and the way in which it has influenced our approach to how we accessorize, to fashion, to life. When confronted with an unprecedented life event as big or as scary as a global pandemic, it's entirely reasonable to gravitate toward things that provide comfort and joy.
"When I look at pillow bags, there’s something that reminds me of childhood. There's a sense of comfort and nostalgia," says Ale Kertzer, New York- and São Paulo-based personal stylist. "I think [after lockdown] we may not want to wear sweatpants 24/7 anymore, but we're finding ways of trickling that comfort into other wearable items. We've left home and we've left bed, but now we're running out with our pillows because we want to take the bed with us."
Wu has now had her original pillow bag for two years, and she admits that the novelty of it has waned. Now that the market is saturated with every iteration of a pillow/puffer bag imaginable, she wants a break from it all. Still, she understands its continued appeal and steadfast hold on the industry.
"They've been super popular during the pandemic because they look so comfy — and they're actually comfy to hold," she says. "They're cute."