Telfar’s tagline is “Not for you—for everyone.” It alludes to the Black-owned New York brand’s efforts to create and sustain a “It bag” without the bothersome exclusivity. And on Sunday afternoon, Telfar leaned into this lofty but democratic catchphrase, which was broadcast over a loudspeaker to thousands of ecstatic shoppers gathered outside a Rainbow Shop.
The CFDA winner took over the apparel chain’s downtown Brooklyn outpost, where rayon-blend jeans are typically $20, and launched its first brick-and-mortar pop-up. Only two days before the event, customers were given a heads-up on Instagram. Over 3,500 “Bushwick Birkins,” which range in price from $150 to $257 depending on size, were available. More people waited in the rain in a line that wrapped around three city blocks.
Around 3 p.m., the scene felt like a cross between an on-location film shoot, a game show, and a Black Friday department store sale. Several NYPD officers stood outside, keeping a close eye on things. A director used a high-altitude camera crane to capture all of the action for TelfarTV, the brand’s 24-hour broadcast channel, and IG Live. Masked dancers vogued and death-dropped in pastel-colored bags, hats, and soon-to-be-released boots. TelfarTV hosts emceed the event with the bombastic sass and gusto of Billy Porter on Pose (“We are low on the medium chocolate and black bags,” one shouted later that afternoon.
Zoey, a recent college graduate and aspiring fashion designer, stood near the front of the line with her mother. “I don’t own a Telfar, and a lot of my friends have for the last couple of years,” she said over the music and buzzing crowd. “And I just had trouble getting it online.” Okay, this is the perfect opportunity, I thought. I didn’t have any obligations today. So I just shoved all my responsibilities to the side.” She had been standing in line for four hours, intending to buy a medium painter’s blue bag for herself and a medium azalea bag for her neighbour.
Then Zoey’s mother unlocked her iPhone and retrieved a previously saved clip of Telfar. “I was just showing her,” she explained, referring to her daughter, “because I saw the ad on Fox 5.” She wondered if the bag featured in the news segment would be available inside the store. Otherwise, “I’d prefer a white one.”
Mae Coyiuto stood near the end of the line with friends. She was visiting from the Philippines and thought she should check out the drop, which had been announced on Instagram only two days before, because the timing was right. The 28-year-old novelist discovered Telfar through pop star Beyoncé, who sings on her latest album, Renaissance, “This Telfar bag imported/Birkins, them shits in storage.” Coyiuto, however, is unsure how much cache a “Bushwick Birkin” will have in Manila. “People who can afford designer bags tend to stick with older established brands like Gucci and Chanel,” she says. “Even a Balenciaga brand hasn’t clicked [there]!”
There were hundreds and hundreds of bags inside the newly renovated Rainbow location. Telfar Clemens, the brand’s founder, has colorways that almost cover the entire colour spectrum, with 38 shades available online. Consider the sheer variety of the colour blue. The bag is available in Pool Blue, Cyan Blue, Cerulean Blue, Painter’s Blue, and Cobalt.
When the sale began, customers were admitted in groups and given only five minutes to select their bags of choice. People took polite but brisk power walks inside, quickly grabbing their desired colour and size. It was not uncommon to see five bags (the maximum allowed per customer) dangling from a customer’s wrist. There were many smiles.
There were also a few Easter eggs hidden around the store for keen customers to spot: mannequins dressed in colourful tracksuits and duffel bags that have yet to be released or formally announced.
A trio in the corner grinned as they clutched their loot. “The pink one is my first,” Lisa Wright said, displaying the Telfar bag that was wrapped around her body. She then displayed the five brand-new bags that hung from her left arm. “Those are my second, third, and fourth.” “I might share this one with my mother,” she said, pointing to the fifth one.
Around the four-minute mark, one of the TelfarTV hosts issued a time warning. “Bags off the floor, head to the door,” they said in a sing-song voice. To the refrain, a masked dancer duck-walked. Then a preloaded bullhorn sound played. The clock has struck twelve.
“It took us about a week to set everything up,” Buddha Cornier, a Telfar production worker, said after the latest group cleared out. But where had all the Rainbow outfits gone? Cornier grinned. “They’re in storage.” They’re tucked away.”
Back outside, Clemens could be seen hanging out on the Rainbow location’s empty and sectioned off second floor. As if he were Jay Gatsby, he looked down at the chaos he had created. People took selfies with their new Telfar bags and immediately shared them on social media. They then dashed off to the subway and drier surroundings. Passers-by would occasionally inquire aloud, “What’s going on?”
A girl in line had a Telfar purse inside a cloth bag, indicating she had been inside. “I’m going to get another one,” she said, preparing to make another purchase. “I got one for myself, and I’m about to get one for a friend.” He’d like one for his girlfriend.”
This type of animated consumerism continued until around 7:30 p.m., when all of the bags were depleted. Over 1,000 people would be forced to return home empty-handed. Clemens rose from his perch and returned with some good news. On September 23, there will be an online bag drop in every size and colour. “And they’ll ship out right away,” he said emphatically. The crowd, which included people who had just purchased bags, cheered.