A clutch made of… air? Here's why I can’t resist a silly little bag

With Coperni’s viral Air Swipe Bag filling news feeds, here’s a look at the enduring appeal of tiny bags

Emily Ratajkowski is seen on October 27, 2023 in New York City
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This week, Coperni’s A/W 2024 ready-to-wear collection debuted during Paris Fashion Week. The brand is no stranger to pushing boundaries and creating virality—you'll remember the viral Bella Hadid dress moment during their Spring/Summer 23 show. This season, was full of sci-fi-inspired silhouettes and futuristic fashion, from star-shaped stilettos to liquid metallics. But by far the most intriguing piece—a designer handbag—from the brand’s intergalactic collection was a new incarnation of its cult Swipe Bag, made of… air. 

To be more precise, the bag is made of Aerogel, a silicon-based nanomaterial also known as ‘solid smoke’, which is essentially 99 percent open space and has been used by NASA thanks to its ability to withstand extreme heat and pressure.
The space-age creation weighs around 30 grams, and when one commenter on Coperni’s Instagram asked if it fulfilled the traditional function of a bag (to, you know, carry things) the brand replied: “It can hold an iPhone ;).”

Coperni is yet to reveal the cost of this misty white cloud of a thing. But if it does become available to purchase, it’s likely to carry a stratospheric price tag, as the brand’s last viral piece (the Mini Meteorite Swipe Bag of AW23, RRP circa £38,000/40,000 euros) did. Last year also saw the unveiling of a microscopic bag created by MSCHF, another brand known for its viral creations. Modelled on Louis Vuitton’s OnTheGo tote and smaller than a grain of salt, the bag was invisible to the human eye and sold at auction for more than £50,000—naturally.

Understandably, these stunts have attracted more than a few eye rolls. But proponents of Coperni’s Air Swipe say it’s a chic experiment in futuristic, perhaps more sustainable, fashion. As for me? I simply cannot resist a silly little bag. They are ridiculous, impractical, disproportionately expensive and, in my book, utterly brilliant. They represent form over function in its purest, most unashamedly fun sense. I have a brown croc bag (from sustainable Polish brand Mandel) that’s so small it contains suckers to hold a phone in place so you can just about squeeze keys inside it too. And one of my favourite sights is a fashion girly with a chic, tiny bag in one hand and a bulky tote for overspill in another. 

" They are ridiculous, impractical, disproportionately expensive and, in my book, utterly brilliant."

Hailey Bieber is seen on August 28, 2023 in New York City

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Since the dinky Jacquemus Le Chiquito appeared in 2017, the mini bag has been an A-list status symbol that has dominated 90s and Y2K revival trends. From the Dior Saddle and Fendi Baguette to The Row’s Half Moon bag, they’ve clung beneath the shoulders or dangled from the wrists of everyone from Carrie Bradshaw and Paris Hilton to Hailey Bieber, Em Rata and every Kardashian out there.

More affordable options have helped to democratise the trend too—see Cos’s recent collection of quilted micros, Reformation’s mini Rosetta bag, JW Pei’s Gabbi style, or anything from Staud (we love the Alec shoulder bag). Best of all, you can rent one on platforms like By Rotation. “Mini bags are super popular on the app, I think because they add joy to any outfit and are a bit of fun,” says Eshita Kabra, Founder and CEO of the social fashion rental app. “They aren’t always that practical but they can make an outfit, so are the perfect rental option.” 

In the last quarter, rentals of Clio Peppiatt’s Jelly Quartz Bag have increased by 50 percent on the app, with vintage Fendi styles like the Mini Croissant and small styles from Cult Gaia, Prada and Paco Rabanne also spiking in popularity.

Puffy clutches, crystal drawstring pouches, sleek leather shoulder bags: we simply can’t get enough. But aside from joy-sparking impracticality, what’s behind their enduring appeal? It might be that they exude quiet luxury or ‘stealth wealth’. Remember Tom Wambsgans’ infamous takedown of that ‘ludicrously capacious’ Burberry tote in Succession? It’s the ultimate privilege not to have to carry stuff around with you.

If you find the idea of a miniature status symbol a little icky, there’s the brighter idea that it can feel immensely liberating to walk around without too much baggage. Carrying only a cute little accessory that holds the essentials feels particularly gratifying if you spend most of the working week lugging around a laptop, a sweaty gym bag, a supermarket sweep, or all of the above. A tiny bag is also great if you’re used to carrying things for other people—as women so often do.

In truth, a silly little bag stands for so much more than a silly little bag. They date back not only to the baguettes of 90s It Girls let loose on the streets of London and LA but to the groundbreaking ‘reticules’ of the 1900s. These small drawstring bags were used by Victorian women to hold possessions, including money, which would have previously been carried only by men. Since Ancient Egyptian times, when hieroglyphics depicted men with pouches around their waist, women have historically been prevented from holding the purse strings, so a bag—tiny or otherwise—can feel like a symbol of freedom.

This might not be enough to convince you that a bag made out of air is anything less than absurd. But I say here’s to handbags, big and small, in all their weird and wonderful glory.

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Jessica Burrell
Fashion & Features Contributor

Jessica Burrell is a lifestyle and features writer who covers everything from fashion trends to cultural trends and hotel openings for Vogue, Elle, Stylist, Cosmopolitan and others.