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Ikea tote bag: When designers make expensive versions of cheap things

big blue Balenciaga tote bag and big blue Ikea tote bag next to each other Image copyright Balenciaga/ Getty Images
Image caption The ubiquitous Ikea Frakta bag (right) and its Balenciaga equivalent (left)

Market stalls the world over have long been stacked with cheap knock-offs of designer brands.

But sometimes it goes the other way - and designer brands take inspiration from the cheaper things in life. And sometimes a bag that looks like something you can pick up in your local shop can go on sale for more than half the average monthly income in the US.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Take a bow, the new Balenciaga bag. It looks strikingly like the oversized Frakta bag you can pick up in Ikea furniture shops all over Europe - costing some loose change. But Balenciaga's Arena Extra-Large Shopper Tote Bag will set you back $2,145 (£1,670; €2,015).

It isn't a straight copy, of course - the Balenciaga bag is made of leather, not plastic, and the Swedish shop's branding is missing too.

But Ikea seem to be chalking it up as a win. They told Teen Vogue: "We are deeply flattered that the Balenciaga tote bag resembles the Ikea iconic sustainable blue bag for 99 cents. Nothing beats the versatility of a great big blue bag!"

Image copyright @KateBennett_DC

So let's take a look at some of the other times something cheap influenced the world of fashion:

Designer paper bag. This was sold by the German designer Jil Sander in the Autumn/ Winter 2012 season, hot on the heels of 2011's copy of a plastic carrier bag. The brown paper bag, which had a waxed coating, sold out; this despite a price tag of £185 ($240).

Chanel's Lego handbag. This looked like a child's lunchbox and retailed at £5,370 ($6,900). It was designed by Karl Lagerfeld, and celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Rihanna and Rita Ora were spotted with it.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chanel's Lego handbag: To some a child's lunchbox, to others a piece of high-end fashion

Sequined shopping bags. The humble Tesco and Marks & Spencer carrier bags were the inspiration of designer Ashish Gupta who, for his Spring 2014 collection, created his own version of them replete with thousands of sequins - yours for a mere £300.


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Cereal box bags. Another bag, this time made to look like a cereal box was created by British bag designer Anya Hindmarch. Conversely, she also created the "I'm Not a Plastic Bag" bag which cost a fiver, could be picked up at your local supermarket and was the bag of the season in 2007.

"Fake Gucci" T shirt. It looks a tad like a knock-off from the aforementioned market stall, but it is in fact on sale at a department store, Harvey Nichols. It's sold as a "fake Gucci T-shirt", and would set you back £260 ($335). Is fashion eating itself?

Image copyright Harvey Nichols
Image caption Gucci does not sell logo tees like this

Havaianas (flip flops). OK so, you know these as fairly ubiquitous flip flop sandals, to be found in airport shops and shopping centres the world over. That they are. And I'll grant you that they aren't super expensive. But before they were so popular around the world, they were a staple of footwear for the lower classes in Brazil.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Havaiana flip flops come in a multitude of colours these days

Things like this "become a talking point for brands," says Amber Graafland, the fashion and beauty editor of the UK's Daily Mirror newspaper.

"Everyone talks about it, even if they say it's ridiculous; for them it's just about branding."

"It's fashion only. It's about trying to buy in to what the designer is doing," she went on. "The person who buys that bag probably won't wear it next season because fashion has moved on."

And of course, if we all wore the same thing year after year, life for many of us would start to look very boring, very fast.

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