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Puppets and Puppets Looks Beyond the Cookie Bag

The brand, which harnessed the power of its bestselling Cookie bag and tastemaker customer base to become one of New York’s most promising emerging labels, wants to grow buzz at home and abroad.
Models backstage at Puppets and Puppets' Fall/Winter 2023 show.
Models backstage at Puppets and Puppets' Fall/Winter 2023 show. (Courtesy)

Describing why her brand’s Cookie bag became a hit, Puppets and Puppets designer Carly Mark breaks the concept behind it down into pieces. The cookie on the front, where a label would typically be, plays with the idea of what a label symbolises. Food and fashion are both driven by seduction, pleasure and money, she said; putting them together highlights that similarity.

Or put simply: “It’s funny.”

Wit is the driving force behind Puppets and Puppets, the apparel and accessories brand Mark launched in 2019 to fill what she saw as a void of fun in New York fashion. In Mark’s words, fashion is a bacchanal, and she’s made it her business to treat it as such.

In its fourth year of operation and second year of production, Puppets is on track to do over $1 million in sales. But despite the relatively small size of its business, Puppets has captured outsized attention and hype, and Mark is looking to grow. In the past year, she’s grown Puppets and Puppets from five stockists to 25, including Ssense and Bergdorf Goodman. She’s bringing the brand to continental Europe and Asia for the first time, selling her Fall/Winter 2023 collection in stores such as Italian retailer Eraldo and Chinese e-commerce platform Feng Mao. To increase the brand’s assortment and drive sales, Mark is working on her first pre-spring collection.


Mark views the Cookie bag as the plainest example of Puppets’ point-of-view, a mix of weird and wearable, but also a launch pad for the business. A hit product — especially a hit bag — can serve as a motor for an emerging fashion business, propelling it to public recognition and retail partnerships.

Building a brand in New York today, where many young designers struggle to break through due to what some claim is a lack of institutional support and infrastructure, comes with unique challenges. Mark’s goals are not global domination, but to keep Puppets growing at a sustainable pace, create a strong portfolio and one day, helm a heritage fashion house.

“Sticking to your guns is the most important thing a young designer can do. If you do that, you will build an incredibly authentic language,” said Mark. “That is the point of creating a brand.”

A Puppet Master is Born

In the beginning, Puppets and Puppets felt more like an art project than a brand.

Mark was then an artist known for paintings of Haribo gummy bear wrappers. She hosted her first fashion show (with then-business partner Ayla Argentina, who has since departed) under the name “Puppets and Puppets” (in honour of her Chihuahua, Puppet) in 2019. Looks have been modelled by artists and tastemakers in Mark’s downtown orbit, such as model Richie Shazam, chef Danny Bowien and musician Caroline Polachek. None of the looks from her first few shows were actually produced to be sold.

As she continued to create collections, Mark brought together unexpected concepts, merging the worlds of the Russian Romanov dynasty with the thriller novel “American Psycho.” She pushed the boundaries of what could be considered fashion, with an at-times kitschy twist: models have walked the Puppets runway teetering on shoes made out of egg cartons, and wearing Green Bay Packer-style cheese-shaped hats.

“It was a documentation of a moment of New York, and since [Mark] has built on that moment,” said Blake Abbie, editor-at-large at A Magazine, who wore a Puppets look on the Netflix reality show “Bling Empire.”

While her avant-garde collections gained the attention of fashion insiders, it’s the Cookie bag that fast tracked Puppets’ trajectory. The bags now populate Instagram outfit snaps from the likes of musicians like Rosalia and Doja Cat, while still remaining a favourite of those in its original audience, the downtown New York set, like actress Lena Dunham and painter Chloe Wise, a close friend of Mark’s.


The Cookie became the basis for a wider suite of accessories, including green and cheetah-print Cookie bags, Cookie bags with chocolate chips made out of gemstones and bags featuring other foods, like cosmic brownies, bananas, eggs and carrots. Last season, she debuted hobo bags with handles in the shape of old-fashioned phones. All of those iterations helped make the brand more appealing to wholesale partners.

“If you have a hero product that makes it easier to buy into the brand holistically. Buyers will come to you because they think they can sell it: it gives you a base of commerciality,” said Julie Gilhart, chief development officer of brand accelerator Tomorrow Ltd.

Puppets and Puppets feels as if it was designed for a particular person, which has become a recipe for success in New York. Chrissy Kim, a Bergdorf Goodman buyer said the bags are priced to feel special, but accessible, said Kim. (A small Cookie bag runs $545.) “Conversation pieces” like the Cookie bag, she added, grab attention on the floor and compliment the Puppets apparel, such as printed and cut-out suiting separates, oversized sweaters that bear the brand’s name and sculptural dresses.

“You look at Telfar who is speaking to his community, I think she’s done something not so dissimilar,” said Abbie.

A Balancing Act

Four years in, Mark is armed with retailer buy-in and industry acclaim — she was a CFDA emerging designer of the year finalist in 2022 and won a Fashion Trust US award for creativity in March Puppets grew its sales 44 percent between Fall/Winter 2022 and 2023.

But she’s grappling with a familiar dilemma. Running a brand that skews conceptual in New York, a market known for prizing commerciality, is particularly tough, said Mark. She’s been tempted to jump ship for what she thinks can look like a more welcoming market in London or Paris, but ultimately doesn’t want to leave. Puppets and Puppets rose out of the New York art scene and is informed by its sensibilities.

“It needs to happen here,” she said. “I wasn’t wrong, there was and is a void.”

Mark makes creative decisions with a mind to how they set her back or push her forward financially — that may mean not opting for her first choice show venue, for example.


“Pedal to the metal is not what is going to keep your lights on,” she said. As well, because she knows the customer so well, she’s willing to follow their lead. “A huge part of this job is showing up and listening to every person involved in this machine.”

As she looks forward, Mark is working to maintain the balance between growth and sustainability, aesthetic evolution and continuing with proven successes.

“I had a tiny [studio] space on the second floor of the building, then I moved into a big space on the fifth floor. Now I’m in a space somewhere between the two,” said Mark. “I feel like the three little bears. ‘This bed is too small, this bed is too big, this one is just right.’”

That’s the crux of her current mission at Puppets: building a business that doesn’t become so big it crushes her creativity, but not too small it can’t spread or sustain it — one that’s just right.

Further Reading

How to Launch Handbags

Increasingly expensive luxury handbags have made room for the contemporary market to grow. Brands that go into the category with a tight assortment and a strong aesthetic are best positioned for success.

What Happened to New York Fashion?

With more absences on the New York Fashion Week calendar than ever before, BoF looks back at a decade of changes and turmoil in America’s fashion capital.

About the author
Joan Kennedy
Joan Kennedy

Joan Kennedy is Editorial Associate at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and covers beauty and marketing.

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