On the last track of her new album Renaissance, Beyoncé gives listeners a glimpse into her closet. Summer Renaissance details the usual designer labels – Versace, Balenciaga, Givenchy – but then comes a step change. “This Telfar bag imported,” she sings. “Birkins? Them shit’s in storage.”
The message? The Hermès Birkin – once such a mainstay of bluechip luxury – could be replaced by a brand with bags made from vegan leather, and much more affordable – up to $257 (£211) compared with the four figures (or more) for a Birkin. To add insult to injury for the French brand, the Telfar bag is sometimes referred to as the “Bushwick Birkin” thanks to its popularity in the fashionable Brooklyn neighbourhood.
The black-owned brand was founded by Telfar Clemens in 2005 and its shopping bag, with signature T logo, launched in 2014. Notables including Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have since carried the bags and Oprah even named it one of her favourite things in 2020. But this briefest of name checks looks set to take it to a new level. Resale sites saw searches for Telfar increase this week. According to Vogue Business, views spiked 85% on The RealReal luxury resale site the day Renaissance was released, while page views increased 47% on Fashionphile.
Google even registered a spike – with searches for Telfar above Birkin bag. Hermès didn’t do too badly either – on Rebag, searches for Birkin rose 33% between 28 to 31 July while Telfar searches went up by 21%.
With 43.25m streams on Spotify on the first day Renaissance was released, there’s little doubt Beyoncé has the ear of a huge audience – but she clearly has the eyes too.
As part of Renaissance’s artwork, Beyoncé also released a series of portraits, with outfits designed by brands including Schiaparelli, Gucci, Mugler and Rick Owens – brands which have benefited from her endorsement. Luxury store Flannels report that Mugler has seen double-digit growth since the release.
“Beyoncé isn’t afraid to be experimental in her style and look,” said Natalie Dickson, Flannels’ head of luxury women’s brand partnerships. “That’s something that we see with Flannels customers, who have this new understanding of ‘luxury’ – it’s more about a feeling and what that brand’s cultural relevance is.”
Kemi Alemoru, culture editor at gal-dem magazine, said the shift from Hermès to Telfar suggests the singer is observing the changing symbols of luxury within the black community – where the Birkin had previously been highly prized. “It had a great run but there were already conversations about whether it had become too popular on British black Twitter.”
And there is a key difference, Alemoru said: “Telfar … has an ethos that fits Beyoncé’s black capitalist mantras of diverting the community’s money towards black-owned things.”
An endorsement from Beyoncé can be a huge boost for smaller brands. The Renaissance images also feature less well-known designers including Australian Bethany Cordwell and London-based Luis De Javier and Melissa Simon-Hartman.
Simon-Hartman – who designed a dress made from garlands of gold foil flowers for the star – said her “phone has not stopped pinging with Instagram alerts”. She first created items for Beyoncé to wear for her Black is King album released in 2020 and says this shaped her career: “I started to receive interest from the music industry and in the blink of an eye, it became my new specialism. I create for celebs today because of Beyoncé’s influence.” Her work has now been worn by singers including Doja Cat and Stefflon Don.
De Javier designed a sculptural corset for the Renaissance images, the first time Beyoncé has worn his designs. He says it is like a stamp of approval: “The effect it has is to position yourself. It’s like adding something to your CV, a pat on the back.”
This isn’t the first time Beyoncé has influenced style. In 2013, when she sang “I woke up like this” on the track Flawless, it inspired her followers to take no makeup selfies. The dress worn for the Hold Up video started a trend for yellow dresses in summer 2016. Her flower crown, worn on the cover of US Vogue in 2018, spawned the fad for the accessory across festivals.
And her backing dancers wearing berets at 2018’s Coachella brought the hat – a signature of the Black Panthers – back, for a new generation of politically engaged young people.
De Javier is happy to be part of Renaissance specifically – an album that pays tribute to ballroom culture, a key part of the LGBTQ+ community. “I don’t think it gets much better than this,” he said.