Creating an IT bag is the Holy Grail for the majority of designer labels. Some women consider a high end handbag a sound single investment they can bring out each season year after year despite wavering apparel trends, and there seems to be few price boundaries women are willing to pay for this piece. These women may be making a savvy financial decision. During the run on Greek banks in 2015 some preferred to 2.55s. Not surprisingly, cashing. Chanel’s instantly recognisable and versatile Large Classic Flap Bag, for example, has increased price by 70 per cent to £2,740 in just five years. Meanwhile, a leather Mulberry Bayswater that cost £650 in early 2012 is now £895. An Alexander McQueen clutch, which cost £845 in 2012, now sets you back £995. Even Coach, which has traditionally sold bags with starting points of £200-300, have four figure priced pieces.
Is designing an IT bag an art or science? Well, both really. Let us consider five of fashion’s most celebrated handbags, namely Chanel’s ‘2.55’, Hermès’ ‘Birkin’, the ‘Lady Dior’ from Dior, ‘Le Pliage’ from Longchamp, and McQueen’s ‘Skull Clutch’, and their five common ingredients.
- Useful-not statement
Of all the elements in an iconic bag, the most important is practicality over peacockery. Arguably the world’s most recognisable handbag, Chanel’s 2.55, when first sold in the 1920s was the ultimate feminist accessory: it let women get on with their lives, just like men. The shoulder-strapped bags were influenced by soldiers’ knapsacks. The doyenne of fashion herself was bored of having to clutch a bag in her hands which she felt should be occupied with more important work. Thank goodness for us all she did free herself!
Hermès’ much coveted Birkin was designed by the chief executive in 1984 for Jane Birkin when on a plane the contents of her bag spilled everywhere and she complained to him it had been difficult to find a leather weekend bag she liked.
Every airplane and train carries women shouldering their Longchamp ‘Le Pilage’, praised for its ease to collapse and clean. At the end of an ode to this seemingly dull holdall, Vogue editor at large Suzy Menkes sings “It has taken 21 years for the Le Pliage to move from utility to fashion. But its secret is simple. Make it in every colour of the rainbow, patterned or plain – but always keep it useful.”
“How useful is McQueen’s clutch?” I hear the male readers scoff. Well gentlemen, would you want your companion turning up in a strapless dress with bag strap marks looking like you have tried cutting her arms off with cheese wire? And for those with small hands, like yours truly, the ring-like hooks mean you can gather your things without crooking them under your armpit like bagpipes.
- Timeless design which matches any outfit, yet can be updated or made into limited editions
When taking the deep plunge into her wallet for a luxury handbag, regardless of age, most women hope this will be ‘the one’ she takes with her for years to come, quality. Although joining the prestigious Birkin club is what many ladies aspire to, wishing for the day when fellow madams will nod at their bag in recognition, they also desire something uniquely their own. That is why the numerous colours and regional exclusive editions of Le Pliage are so desirable. The Lady Dior has come in 10 different models and looks. The Birkin is available in a choice of leathers or size and personalised with the customer’s desired hardware. A rare example record for the most expensive handbag ever sold at auction – going for £146,000. That lady must have wanted something extraordinarily special.
- Signature look
Each bag has distinctive and unique characteristics. For the 2.55 it has the instantly recognisable gold chain straps and quilting; the Lady Dior has the key chain; the Skull clutch has the knuckle duster clasp. Even if the colour, size or materials of the bag change, there must be elements common to all pieces in the series. Again, a woman is buying into a circle but on her own terms.
- Mystery and myth
These two elements create hype and desire. The bag has to represent an image, a dream. The Lady Dior was Princess Diana’s signature handbag and its cannage design is inspired by the patterns on the Napoleon III chairs Dior used in his first show in 1947. This is why Dior calls it the handbag with a “royal destiny”, owning ones suggests the bearer is a princess.
No one truly knows how many Birkin bags are crafted every year. According to a 2014 estimate, Hermès produced 70,000 Birkin bags that year. The bag is highly coveted and for several years reputed to have a waiting list of around a decade. The rarity of these bags are purportedly designed to demand by collectors.
Purchasing a luxury bag is a costly commitment but considered worth it if at the same time gaining access to an elite group or dream.
- Celebrity Factor
Similar to the mystery and myth associated with a bag, those seen carrying it denote a certain cache and lifestyle. Jet-setting models, actresses and royalty have been snapped swinging their personal Le Pliage. Wielding their own, lesser known owners feel part of ‘the set’. McQueen has forever been the go to for adding a little sin to a darling outfit. However, ever since Sarah Burton designed the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress celebrities, and thereafter mere mortals, have been buying in droves. The one piece that has gained eternal esteem is the skull clutch. Hollywood favourites such as Diane Kruger, Anne Hathaway and Emma Watson have all been “papped” grasping one. Simply put, season after season, the owner connects herself with the tragically beautiful mind of Alexander McQueen, British royalty and Hollywood glamour. As discussed above, the Birkin, Lady Dior and 2.55 are all directly linked to style icons.
Yes, we are talking about pieces of leather sewn together but they hold women’s possessions and dreams.