Iconic designer bags are arguably one of the most collectable fashion items, whether for their exceptional designs or as symbols of status in society. Not only are the bags a reflection of the buyers and consumers, but they are also the crutch of many fashion houses. Trends come and go, but some luxury handbags have aged well with time. Ultimately, they are the looking glass of a certain decade, encapsulating the style and preferences of the time.
Bags—handbags specifically—have become an accessory that completes a look. This is especially prevalent after the introduction of Dior’s New Look in 1947 where women presented themselves as polished and poised. In a time when the world was recovering from the war, bags gradually shed their role as a functional tool, becoming an extension for self-expression and reflection of personal tastes.
We backtrack the timeline where fashion and pop cultures converge—from the silver screens to the streets—and pull out some of the most iconic designer bags that represent their respective decades that, despite being old, remains relevant today.
Gucci Bamboo 1947
Despite being a reiteration, the name of the bag indicates the year bamboo—used as a bag handle—was introduced to the leather-dominated bag-making world. Founder Guccio Gucci discovered a sidestep at the time when post-war sanctions lingered around, making leather sourcing a difficult task. With a patented heating technology, the bag was released and known by its product name 0633. The humble name, however, did not stop celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor and Grace Kelly from getting their hands on it, leading the bag to its popularity until today. The house later reintroduced the bag to the world as the Gucci Bamboo 1947 with a modernised look.
Entering the year 1955, Gabriella “Coco” Chanel single-handedly changed the way women carried handbags. The legendary Chanel 2.55 was deemed to be the first “hands-free” bag, a quilted leather piece with an emblematic Mademoiselle turn lock, swinging from a metal chain. At a time when most bags were hand-carried, the Chanel 2.55 became a trailblazing innovation. Many iterations later, the 2.55 silhouette remains the mainstay of the Maison and is unsurprisingly one of the most coveted bags of all time.
View this post on Instagram
Speaking of Grace Kelly, in spite of her brief acting career, she was inevitably a fashion icon during the Golden Ages. Previously known as the Sac à Dépêches, or the “dispatch bag” released in 1928, it was a smaller version of the larger bags from the brand. Grace Kelly was given the Sac à Dépêches as part of Frances Stevens’ wardrobe, a character she played in the movie To Catch a Thief by Alfred Hitchcock. She continued carrying it off the set and famously used the bag as a cover to hide her baby bump from the paparazzi after she became the Princess of Monaco years later. Thrusting the bag into the limelight, the brand adopted the “Kelly” name, as it was how the public preferred to call it.
Louis Vuitton Speedy 25
For some people, the first Louis Vuitton bag that comes to mind is the Neverfull thanks to its capacious design, but the Speedy 25 has to be crowned one of the most classic handbags from the House and here’s why. Known for making travel-friendly bags, the Louis Vuitton Keepall was the favourite among jet-setters of the time. Audrey Hepburn, the legend herself, requested a miniature Keepall bag. That was how the Speedy 25, Louis Vuitton’s first handbag, was created. Despite being slightly smaller than the Keepall, the 25cm-wide bag lives on to be popular among globetrotters decades later.
Gucci Jackie 1961
“What would Jackie do?”
Jackie Kennedy’s influential fashion style often made international headlines in the 1960s. It’s no secret that the former first lady was so smitten by the half-crescent-shaped bag that it was renamed “the Jackie”—originally called the Constance—to honour her. Entering the boho era, “the Jackie” was given a less structural design with no visible logo, making it a versatile everyday bag. Like every other iconic handbag, “the Jackie” went through many redesigns. It was not until 2020 when former creative director Alessandro Michele reissued the Gucci Jackie 1961. The latest iteration is smaller with candy-coloured hues, but bears the closest resemblances to its original look among other iterations.
Prada Vela Backpack
Perhaps one of the most revolutionary designs in the 1980s, or even in the history of luxury bags, the Vela backpack was the first bag created by Muccia Prada. Steering away from the usual leather bags, this nylon backpack was a radical innovation during its time. Using Pocono, a material used in making military tents, the utilitarian backpack was durable, sturdy, and practical. Not only did the backpack stand out from the vast sea of gilded luxury handbags, but its minimal design also withstood the test of time. The bag marked the rise of Prada’s “ugly chic” house code and also cemented its avant-garde image among the younger clientele. The backpack was reissued in 2005 as a part of the Re-nylon line, a collection made with recycled nylon.
One of the most famous luxury handbags in the world actually started from a conversation between Jane Birkin, an actress known for her laidback and effortless style, and then-CEO, Jean-Louis Dumas from Hermès on a plane. Birkin lamented that she had difficulty looking for a bag that fulfils a young mother’s needs. The perfect “diaper bag” was created and was named after none other than Birkin. The bag then became a firm favourite among moms, specifically Hollywood mothers like Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham, and Jennifer Lopez. The bag, however, comes with a hefty price tag. In fact, the most expensive handbag sold at the time of writing is a Hermes Himalaya Diamond Birkin 30, one of the many renditions of the Hermès Birkin.
View this post on Instagram
Adorned with the Maison’s notable quilted criss-cross cannage, the Lady Dior was initially known as the Chouchou, which translates to “favourite” in French. It later got its name from, you guessed it, Princess Diana, as she was often seen carrying the bag around after receiving it as a gift from the former First Lady of France Bernadette Chirac. Today, the elegant bag continues topping the list as one of the most, if not the most, favourable Dior bags among fashion enthusiasts.
“It’s not a bag, it’s a Baguette!” A small-screen icon, the Fendi Baguette was the It bag in the late 90s and noughties. After its appearance in Sex and the City, the show eventually propelled the baguette bag under Carrie Bradshaw’s arm into public attention, converting her fans into fashion savvies. Not every handbag that turned up in a show made such an impact, however. The baguette silhouette adhered to the current trends and preferred lifestyle then, too, and we have Silvia Venturini Fendi to thank. The flat underarm bag is a versatile investment that goes well with day and night occasions. The size of the bag is neither ludicrously huge nor impractically small—the perfect size for a metropolitan I ❤️ New York lifestyle.
Introduced in 2001 by Balenciaga creative director Nicolas Ghesquière, Le Dix Motorcycle Bag was born. The bag originally intrigued supermodel Kate Moss in a studio showing, and was shortly seen sported by every it girl of the early 00’s.
— appreciate (@appreciate__app) September 8, 2022
Another bag that encapsulates the noughties has to be the Balenciaga Motorcycle, now called “City”. The leather and hardware add a hint of timeless biker chic—a style that never really fades away from the fashion lexicon. With the surging interest in Y2K fashion styles, the bag is having a moment again, especially on social media. Yet, who would have thought the Balenciaga City was once a rejected prototype created in 2001 by then-creative director Nicolas Ghesquière. The unreleased prototype caught the eye of supermodel Kate Moss—soon after, the fashion icon was seen carrying the bag on the streets and piquing the interest of fashion crowds from all over the world.