When I was growing up there were two container constants in my household in St. Charles, Missouri: the iconic circular tin of Royal Dansk, a Danish cookie brand always filled with my mama’s sewing accessories, and the Crown Royal bag stuffed with everything else. As long as I can remember, my daddy’s go-to drink was Crown—a blended Canadian 80-proof whisky sold for $33 and some change—and my eyes would go straight to the little purple bag snugly holding the crown-shaped bottle. I would wait patiently until he finished the bottle and then the bag was mine (if he or my mama didn’t claim it first). I would use the soft, lightweight, drawstring pouch as a purse to hold my important treasures that I had as a little girl, like my diary or a set of marbles. Sometimes I would get crafty, cutting up the fabric to make dresses for my dolls.
My daddy’s allegiance to Crown hasn’t slowed, and now that I’m an adult, I still take a bag or two every time I visit my folks when I’m home. Even though I write about drinking for a living, I can’t remember what the whisky tastes like—I know I had it once in my life, but my focus was always on the bag and not the booze. My memory of Crown Royal is all about that purple and gold bag. And I am not alone.
As long as I can remember, Crown Royal consumers have been repurposing these bags to store some of their most valuable possessions, everything from titles and deeds to homes, to vibrators, tarot cards, watches or any other items deemed personally important. Some folks have even turned the bags into fashion items and household goods, from slippers to door mats. At the annual Tales of the Cocktail convention in New Orleans, my friend once spotted a guy wearing a suit made of Crown Royal bags. And just last year, celebrity designer Jhoanna Alba created a limited-edition blazer inspired by that iconic velvet bag.
Although the purple pouch is the most recognizable, there is an array of other colors in the Crown Royal lineup, including the green one ensconcing Crown Royal Regal Apple and the cobalt blue one that accompanies Crown Royal XR, the rarest in the brand’s Extra Rare Whisky Series, coveted by the most hardcore Crown fans. You can even custom-embroider the bags for a personal touch that lends an added air of permanence to the packaging.
It’s funny to think how this Canadian whisky, originally blended by Seagram’s as a gift for the king and queen of England in 1939, with its luxurious purple bag and gold stitching—literally fit for royalty—has become such a staple in the Black community. But then again, it’s not that surprising after all, because we do descend from royalty and celebrate our Black excellence.
“Black royalty is a nuanced theme,” says Johannah Rogers, multicultural communications strategy lead at Diageo North America. “We believe the sentiment and conversations around Black royalty, alongside the cues of royalty within our bags, have only helped to propel our iconic purple bags into a brand in and of itself.”
No one knows exactly when this iconic purple bag became so ingrained in Black culture. I don’t recall an advertising blitz or any type of targeted marketing when I was growing up. Crown and its silky dress has simply always been part of my life. Wine journalist Chasity Cooper, for her part, remembers Crown Royal and its alignment with Black culture from the 2007 Jill Scott song “Crown Royal on Ice” as well as from simply witnessing family members enjoying the whisky and being drawn to the regal bag.
“I remember that very distinguished purple bag with that little crown emblem,” Cooper recalls. “You knew that grown folks would drink this, but you could sneak away with a bag to use it as a toy. You don’t really start drinking until you’re 21, and you just recognize that logo as it’s etched into your brain at such a young age.”
For Tiffanie Barriere, a historian and bar educator from Atlanta, the appeal of the Crown Royal bag in Black communities stems from its visual nod to our sense of royal African heritage. “Purple stands for royalty,” she says. “It’s got a crown on top of it. You know how we love to feel. The packaging is perfect and then you get swag. So, it’s just worth all of that money. You’re getting flavor, getting swag—which is the bag-and you’re getting good-price whisky.”
Similar to Hennessy, which is celebrated with comparable fanfare, there’s been a longstanding and invaluable history between Crown Royal and the Black community that only encourages brand loyalty. The brand has supported and amplified charity giveback programs, investment in local communities and communication platforms featuring Black talent such as Kevin Garnett, Spike Lee, Kat Graham and Ari Lennox, allowing them to drive their own narrative. As of June 2020, the brand has donated $100,000 to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to help fight systemic racism and social injustice, and most recently, it’s launched an initiative called #CrownBlackArt that gives a welcome platform to Black artists in the United States.
“These consumers and communities have always had a strong affinity for Crown Royal thanks to our aspirational cues, royal roots, quality liquid and investment in local communities,” explains Rogers of Diageo. “Black culture drives pop culture, and we’ve been inspired by that influence—celebrating and honoring this community as those that are living generously and showing up for themselves and others.”
While the whisky is firmly embedded in Black culture, the Crown Royal bag is its own special entity. “You see it in fashion and music,” says Cooper. “Black people are the culture. So, if we make something cool, everybody’s going to think it’s cool.”
Now that I’m living abroad, Crown Royal is hard to find. I only have two bags with me—one has my tarot cards while the other holds my prized Mickey Mouse watch and my birthstone ring from childhood. They remind me of my youth and my culture no matter how far from home I may be. I know all my treasures will be safe and sound in that little purple bag. But you better believe when my mom next sends me a care package, I’m going to get her to throw in a bag or two. After all, you can never have too many.