Handbags - Feature Article

‘The Iconic 5’ in the world of luxury handbags

Luxury brands have designed and released numerous bags over decades which have exhibited masterful precision, everlasting quality and timeless design. However, not all bags stand the test of time the way these iconic pieces have.

We’re delving into some of the most high-profile sought-after bags that have made their mark in the fashion industry and have captured the hearts of A-listers and bag connoisseurs alike.

Chanel – ‘2.55’

Chanel 2.55

The Chanel 2.55 is symbolic of freedom and practicality in true Chanel style. It was the first women’s bag that came with a shoulder strap rather than being limited to a clutch.

Gabrielle Chanel’s vision was to create something hands-free, as all her existing bags were getting tiresome to hold in her hands. She designed a piece in 1929, feeling inspired by the utility of the straps that were used in soldiers’ bags. After Chanel’s success in the 50s, she revamped the design and created the iconic Chanel 2.55, aptly named after its creation date, February 1955. The 2.55 reflects Chanel’s upbringing in a convent and her love for sport.

The burgundy lining on the bag was inspired by the colour of the uniforms at Aubazine Abbey, the convent where she was raised, whilst the chained straps signified the chatelaines worn by the caretakers. A zippered compartment is included in the front flap where Chanel would hold her secret love letters at the time and an outer slip pocket on the back for stashing cash. The exterior body is constructed of stitched quilting, mimicking the horse racing jackets worn by men.

The front lock on the 2.55 is vastly different to the well-known double CC logo found on the Classic Chanel, with a Mademoiselle lock instead. The Mademoiselle lock is rectangular with a very simplistic design and the name ‘Mademoiselle’ symbolises that Gabrielle Chanel remained unmarried.

When the now-late Karl Lagerfeld took over Chanel in 1983, he decided to reinvent the lock to the famous CC lock with the new Chanel Classic Flap Bag. This is not to be mistaken for the 2.55, as the Classic Flap features not just the CC logo but also an interwoven leather strap, also designed by Lagerfeld himself.

In February 2005, Lagerfeld introduced the 2.55 Reissue with the original Mademoiselle lock in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the original 2.55. In recent years, the value of the Chanel 2.55 has gone up by 70% and it has become increasingly difficult to acquire the 2.55 in the second-hand market; the original design from 1955 has become a rare vintage piece.

Hermès – ‘Birkin’

Hermes Birkin

The Hermes’ Birkin is considered a little bit of a starlet in the media as it has made a plethora of headlines in recent years. Named after the English-French actress Jane Birkin, the Birkin bag was designed for the purpose of utility, at the request of the actress herself when she met Hermes’ then-chief executive Jean Louis Dumas on a flight between London and Paris.

The Birkin’s shape is easy to identify, with its flat base and structured body comprised of supple leather. It comes in multiple sizes (25, 30, 35, 40), colours and finishes. The most-wanted are usually the exotic varieties in Nicotilus and Porosus crocodile leather. If exotics aren’t to your fancy, Hermes also have versions in Togo, Clemence and Barenia leather just to name a few.

Since its launch, it has become one of the most coveted bags to date and holds its value (and more) for years. In June 2018, a 2008 Himalaya Birkin with a diamond-encrusted lock sold for £165,500 in an auction sale at Christie’s in London. The highest world record set goes to Hong Kong in 2017 when another Hermes Birkin sold for £253,700. The bag’s value has consistently risen every year, indicating a total rise of 14.2% across 35 years. In terms of value, the Birkin bag is simply incomparable.

Birkin bags have been seen adorned on the arms of numerous celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian. Beckham’s Hermes collection is said to be worth over $2 million alone, which includes numerous Birkin bags in various finishes and colours. Matched with its practicality, wealth and timeless design, we don’t see the Birkin bag falling off the ‘icon’ list anytime soon.

Dior – ‘Lady Dior’

Lady Dior

The Lady Dior is a stunning piece that made its debut in the 90s, and was considered a favourite by the late Lady Diana. When it had initially launched, it didn’t have an official name. During the Cezanne Art Exhibition in Paris in 1995, sponsored by the LVMH group, the handbag was presented by the French first lady Bernadette Chirac to Lady Diana, Princess of Wales. Lady Diana loved the bag so much, she ordered it in every variety. With Lady Diana’s approval, it was then graciously named the Lady Dior. Since then, the bag has been photographed on numerous occasions, catapulting it to success. It is considered one of the bestselling bags in fashion history selling over 200,000 since its release.

The grab bag, designed by Gianfranco Ferre, features rattan patterned stitched detailed leather, round top handles and gold charms in the letters D-I-O-R. Naturally, a bag of this demeanour would then be finely constructed by Dior’s craftsmen; made of 130 pieces of the finest lambskin leather which is then sanded, dyed and hand-stitched. It is then hand-cut by its artisans around wooden moulds and precisely sewn together.

Since its inception, several glamorous celebrities have been photographed with the bag such as Monica Belucci, Diane Kruger and Marion Cotillard. The bag oozes sophistication and elegance and it is no wonder why it’s such a hit with these classy ladies!

There have been numerous creative versions of the Lady Dior, showing that such a classic piece can also keep up with the 21st century. Just this year, Dior’s artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri debuted limited edition versions of the Lady Dior in collaboration with talented female artists. African-American artist Mickalene Thomas designed a gorgeously abstract piece using mixed materials, creating a very sensory, touch-and-feel version of the bag. South Korean sculptor Lee Bul was re-invited to design yet another Lady Dior, following her last reflective Plexiglas piece from 2017. Her new edition was more borne to nature, in a mossy green texture that breathed new life into the iconic bag.

The resale figures of the Lady Dior have been equally fascinating, with its value increasing by over 14% between 2014 and 2016. With delicate care, the Lady Dior could fetch you a pretty penny many years down the line.

Louis Vuitton – ‘Speedy’

Louis Vuitton Speedy

Louis Vuitton’s Speedy bag is a sought-after must-have several decades after its creation, an indication of a true vintage that has been carried over to efficiently to the 21st century.

In 1930, Georges, Louis Vuitton’s son, designed his first “Keepall” bag. It was created to be the perfect travel companion for the elite and was quickly associated as a signifier of wealth. The bag become so immensely popular; Georges designed a smaller version for everyday use a couple of years later. Thus, emerged the ‘Speedy’ bag.

The Speedy was initially introduced in the same 30 size but now also comes in sizes 25, 35 and 40. The Speedy 25 was custom-made in 1959, at the request of doe-eyed Breakfast at Tiffany’s actress, Audrey Hepburn, as she required a smaller version to accompany her on everyday tasks. As air travel for Hollywood stars become increasingly popular, the demand for the Speedy closely followed.

Travel bags must naturally withstand all environmental factors, which is why it is designed to be waterproof, scuff proof and tear proof. The classic version of the bag is a sturdy canvas material with thick leather handles. Over the years, the colour will darken to a full patina. The Speedy has been designed in numerous different materials, sizes and colours whilst still retaining its classic shape. If the classic Monogram canvas isn’t your style, Louis Vuitton also have Totem, Damier or Epi versions. In 2011, Louis Vuitton introduced the Speedy Bandouliere (which translates to ‘with a strap’) which included an integrated shoulder strap and double zipper, available in different finishes. This version gives you the option to go hands-free, which is particularly useful when flight hopping.

Louis Vuitton are extremely particular about quality and it is said it takes over 400 manoeuvres to complete a Speedy bag, which is comprised of 21 different pieces. The silhouette of the bag itself is structured with a rounded body and a flat rectangular bottom. The Monogram version maintains its designs still now, with one piece of canvas for the body and vachetta for the handles and piping.

The Speedy has now been in production for nearly 90 years, making it a true classic. Louis Vuitton as a brand have always based their designs bearing the traveller in mind; so, whether you’re jetting off to another continent or traversing across the city and need the perfect bag, the Speedy will always rise to the occasion.

Fendi – 'Baguette Bag'

Fendi Baguette

Fendi’s Baguette bag was named in such a way because it was designed to fit comfortably under the arm, much like how the French were seen carrying their baguette loaves from the bakery. The Baguette is fairly young compared to the other Iconics, as it was first introduced in 1997. Silvia Venturini Fendi, the designer of the Baguette, wanted to create a bag that was unique in shape and wanted to target it towards a more artistically chic ‘hipster’ market.

The Baguette was an instant hit, as it sold 100,000 in just the first year alone. Much like the Birkin, the Baguette was also featured in Sex in the City as Carrie Bradshaw is seen toting it around in Episode 17, Season 3 during which a mugger tried to steal her Baguette bag.

The Baguette bag is symbolic of individuality and despite earning high social status, the concept itself cared little about stature at the time of its first wave of production. The individuality of the bag is reflected through the numerous variations that have been released over the years. Each Baguette bag is the same shape; rectangular and small enough to fit under the arm with a double F interlocking logo as the front clasp. Some variations may feature Swarovski crystals or colourful tassels to add whimsical character.

What is particularly interesting is that despite the Baguette being vastly different from Fendi’s other iconic pieces, which praise utility and classicism, the Baguette breaks down these barriers and puts a fun twist on accessories. It’s a modern bag that has also kept up with modern society, with crossbody versions, perfect for city dwellers who are constantly on-the-go.

The bag has been adored by numerous celebrities such as Madonna and Catherine Zeta-Jones and again, much like the Birkin, it is extremely difficult to get your hands on a Fendi Baguette without ending up on a never-ending waiting list.

The popularity of the Baguette has skyrocketed recently, with a surge of Google searches by 174% since the beginning of 2019. Sales of the Baguette have even increased by a whopping 558% since January 2018, with the average selling price increasing by 15%. We’d recommend getting your hands on one whilst you still can!

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