Could this pigeon clutch from JW Anderson be the new It bag?
Amid global chaos, the bird-shaped clutch bag is a cherished piece of daft.
This week I have been thinking about pigeons. Principally, a £650 (US$734) pigeon that has been spotted on Sarah Jessica Parker’s arm. No, the actor is not starring in a new version of Mary Poppins, more’s the pity (I’d love to see what she might put into her carpet bag); instead she is reprising her alter ego Carrie Bradshaw, with filming of a second series of the Sex And The City sequel And Just Like That having recently commenced.
The pigeon is actually a handbag, a resin clutch that made its debut at the JW Anderson menswear autumn/winter 2022 show in January. It has since become the subject of a cult obsession as people try to spot it in the wild. There was a flurry of excitement in September when the singer Sam Smith carried the pigeon to a show during London Fashion Week. Smiling beatifically in a simple black blazer, they recalled a modern-day Francis of Assisi – albeit the version who is patron saint of beady eyes and stale bread.
Not since Beatrix Potter daubed a tailcoat on a rodent has a public menace seemed so cute. The author was herself quite disparaging about the charms of pigeon. They feature in her 1907 story The Tale Of The Faithful Dove, but she found the pigeon too “namby pamby” and refused to illustrate the work. She should probably be cancelled. If only Potter had looked to the city rather than the hedgerow, she would not have so savagely missed the potential of the bird.
Look at it now. This latest SJP sighting finds our pigeon flapping across the Atlantic in search of bigger portion sizes and a whole new tier of fame. Its plum role in the HBO drama is a highly coveted opportunity: It could become as well known as Carrie’s Fendi “baguette” or the iconic Bradshaw corsage.
I don’t know quite why I love it, but every time I see the plastic pigeon with its jaunty collar it puts a smile on my face. It also reminds me that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another example of the species that has such unmutilated feet. Obviously, I can’t stand them when they’re flapping at my croissants or pecking round the beer mats when I’m sitting at the pub. They’re generally disgusting, but in a week of unrelenting panic in the markets and global terror, the pigeon clutch has offered us a cherished piece of daft.
Daft is in short supply these days, there’s little space for froth or fun. Even John Cleese has switched silly walks and pratfalls to join the seething opinion-mongers at the rightwing broadcaster GB News.
The pigeon’s designer Jonathan Anderson tells me that he wanted to celebrate an animal “that surrounds us” (there are some 400 million of them around the world), one that we are used to and that we either love or hate. “I like the idea of a pest being elevated to high fashion,” he tells me, on his way back from a dinner celebrating craft. “They’re such a feature of city life. Would we even love the city without the birds?”
Anderson has a romantic vision. Like many tourists to London, as a young child visiting from Northern Ireland he would be taken to feed the birds in Trafalgar Square. But such activities are far from unique to British culture: You can go and get pecked by flying rodents in every major city from Rome to Taipei. Carrie Bradshaw probably identifies with the pigeon as a New York icon, a totem of gritty survival in contrast to Truman Capote’s elitist swans. Besides, fashion loves a bird as symbol. Christian Dior liked to adorn his muses with hummingbirds. Schiaparelli chose the dove.
The pigeon, instead, is a dirty, common scavenger. But aren’t we all, right now? I can certainly identify with London’s vermin each time I twist my body into the contortions required of anyone trying to commute to work. After such a long period of easy quiet in the city, I’ve had to relearn the art of navigating pedestrians, where I look completely deranged with purpose, weaving past the dawdlers as they straggle in my path. The city is teeming with tourists. The energy is back! Life is pulsing through our urban centres, and it’s as grimy and pestilent as it ever was.
Anderson designed his pigeon so that it “must be cradled, or carried like a precious object”, and at this moment I would like to be treated in the same way. I want to be elevated above the normal. “The pigeon is the underdog that sometimes becomes a hero,” says Anderson. We are all the pigeon. He could be speaking for us all.
By Jo Ellison © 2022 The Financial Times.