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How the ‘It’ coffee cup became the new ‘It’ bag

A model walks on South Windsor Boulevard during the Balenciaga Fall 2024 fashion show on Dec 02 2023 wearing a velour tracksuit and carrying a Balenciaga-branded coffee cup
A model at the Balenciaga fashion show in Los Angeles accessorises her velour tracksuit with a branded coffee cup - Taylor Hill/Getty Images

You might expect a Balenciaga catwalk show to introduce us to a cutting-edge new shoe idea or must-have bag, instead the standout accessory at the label’s latest show in Los Angeles last weekend, was something you might already own, in some form. Models walked in front of the Hollywood sign in velour tracksuits and cartoonish Ugg boots, carrying yoga mats and talking on their phones and every look was completed with a Balenciaga-branded coffee cup.

This was a knowing statement from Demna Gvasalia, the fashion house’s creative director; a comment on a trend that can be traced back to American twins Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. The former child stars are renowned for their distinctive personal style which involves a lot of black, sized-up layers and eye-wateringly expensive handbags. However, the one accessory with which The Row founders have become synonymous is a takeaway coffee cup. Where the Olsens have led, the world has followed and we now find ourselves in the era of the It coffee cup.

Mary-Kate Olsen out in New York with a designer coffee cup that complements her outfit
Mary-Kate Olsen out in New York with a designer coffee cup that complements her outfit - James Devaney/WireImage

You can already buy Balenciaga’s logo-adorned porcelain reusable mugs in white or black for £90. The luxury to-go cup has become a new entry-level item for those wishing to add some overt designer branding to an outfit, without splashing out £3,000 on an It bag. However, these cups will somehow make spending £3.60 on a flat white seem economical – Versace sells a brash crystal-adorned cup for £765 and Louis Vuitton’s comes with a canvas sleeve in its signature monogram print for £620. Prada’s stainless steel mug is comparably reasonable at £150, though it looks just like one of the silver flasks you took on picnics growing up, but with an added Prada logo.

Balenciaga's Paris Coffee Cup in white porcelain, Versace's Crystal Medusa Travel Cup
Balenciaga's Paris Coffee Cup in white porcelain, Versace's Crystal Medusa Travel Cup

If the thought of spending £600 on a Dior coffee mug makes you want to swear off caffeine forever, there are plenty of other status cups that won’t get as many questioning looks from your local barista. “Customers are always looking for new ways to accessorise, and this season’s must-have arm-candy includes cups,” says Lizzie Batchelar, buyer at John Lewis, who cites the Stanley travel mug as the key trending style for the retailer in rose quartz, citron and fog (a light grey).

Louis Vuitton's Louis Cup, Prada's stainless steel travel mug
Louis Vuitton's Louis Cup, Prada's stainless steel travel mug

“In the wake of the pandemic, we’ve witnessed a return to routines along with a conscious embrace of sustainability, which has seen a remarkable 29 per cent surge in our coffee cup sales this year”, says Tim Bouscarle, co-founder of reusable product brand Chilly’s. It’s all about rich, darker hues to match our winter wardrobes, as Chilly’s best-selling colours right now are pine and whale (a rich navy blue) that both have a Farrow & Ball quality to them.

Pharrell Williams in Paris wears navy blue denim shirt and trousers, black suede and leather sneakers and carries a crocodile print bag and reusable cup - all from Louis Vuitton
Pharrell Williams walks in Paris with a reusable branded Louis Vuitton cup, which comes with a canvas sleeve in the label's signature monogram print - Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

If you want to make more of a statement with your morning matcha, however, it has also collaborated with House of Sunny to design coffee cups in the London-based label’s cult swirl Hockney print (Kendall Jenner has worn the dress version) and also partnered with Liberty, using its heritage floral print designs.

Another reusable brand that will get double takes in the queue for coffee at Gail’s is Fellow, which sells cups with a sleek, minimalist design. The mug sends a clear signal that you take coffee drinking very seriously – you would never drink a Pret filter and wince when someone asks for milk and sugar. But it’s not just about takeaway cups; John Lewis has also seen a 26 per cent increase in sales of desk mugs, with one style from Thermos proving the most popular.

Clockwise from top left: Chilly's whale bottle, Stanley Stainless Steel Tumbler, Fellow Carter Slide Mug
Clockwise from top left: Chilly's whale bottle, Stanley Stainless Steel Tumbler, Fellow Carter Slide Mug

Coffee cups have also become a trusted accessory for fashion influencers, deployed as a casual way to convey a nonchalant, “I just threw this on” attitude. “My reusable coffee cup (filled with Yorkshire tea) gives off an ‘I’m so busy’ vibe that us Brits love,” says Monikh Dale, the stylist and influencer. She pairs hers with slouchy jeans, oversized coats and New Balance trainers.

It’s not just about the cup you’re carrying – where you buy your beverage can earn you kudos, too. In LA, the cult drink to be photographed with is model Hailey Bieber’s Strawberry Skin Glaze smoothie, which is sold for a staggering £16 at the wellness supermarket Erewhon. But Britons aren’t likely to spend nearly £20 on a blend of vanilla collagen, sea moss and almond milk (among other ingredients) – so what is our equivalent status to-go order?

Alexandra Lapp wearing a black and bone colored striped cashmere turtleneck pullover by COS, white wide leg pants by Giorgio Armani, a bone colored harmonia shoulder bag by Hiva, white Triomphe sneaker by Celine, a coffee to go cup by Chanel, a black cap by Celine and sunglasses by For Arts Sake during a street style shoot in Paris
Influencer Alexandra Lapp in Paris with a COS turtleneck, Hiva's Harmonia shoulder bag and a coffee to go cup by Chanel - Streetstyleshooters/Getty Images

On the days you have forgotten your reusable cup (it happens to the best of us), you want to be seen with a white coffee cup that shows you shop small and local and care about the quality of your beans, rather than a branded takeaway from Pret or Costa.

“Grind’s pink coffee cup design is instantly identifiable and they have also made a reusable version that is identical to their original takeaway cup,” says Elinor Block, a fashion editor, who knows almost as much about status coffee brands as runway trends as her husband owns two independent coffee shops in Sheffield; Steam Yard and Corner Store. “Caravan, Workshop and Colonna Coffee are all coffee brands we talk a lot about in my household, and love for their design aesthetic as much as their blends.”

Justin Bieber and Hailey Bieber out for coffee in Manhattan
Justin Bieber and Hailey Bieber out for coffee in Manhattan - Robert Kamau/GC Images

Zendaya, meanwhile, introduced Hollywood to the concept of Gails-core in April, when she was photographed in London with an iced beverage, with the chain’s distinctive red and white striped straw, the perfect finishing touch to her outfit, which comprised Christian Louboutin boots, a suede skirt and cropped shearling jacket. It rather puts the rest of us in our dog-walking coats, wellies and Caffè Nero cappuccinos to shame, doesn’t it?