The advent of the designer bag seems to have had its origins in the 20th Century. Whilst bags, satchels, purses, and pochettes have been used throughout the ages as practical items and fashion accessories, Leonard da Vinci could very well be considered the first to create a ‘designer bag’. When Leonardo’s 1497 drawings were discovered in 1978, amongst them was a beautifully executed illustration of a handbag. The elegant design was possibly based on a dispatch rider’s purse of the period and was faithfully reassembled by Florentine fashion house Gherardini, who added a 20th Century touch with a neat leather top handle. Called ‘La Pretiosa’ the embossed calf leather bag with heavy top stitching was made in limited edition, somewhat like a postponed collaboration.
Collaboration and association go hand-in-hand in designer circles, and it was in the first part of the 20th Century that this association started being made with ‘celebrity’. Known for their good taste and flamboyance, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor travelled in style and were famous for their array of Goyard travel bags and trunks which were commissioned between 1939 and 1986. They had so much panache that even their famous terriers and pugs enjoyed Goyard ‘Chic du Chien’ travel accessories!
Less obvious is Queen Elizbeth II who has always preferred Launer fashion accessories and bags. The late Queen Mother initiated the trend when she gifted a Launer bag to her daughter. Elizabeth became a devotee as it complemented her ‘no fuss’ style.
In a different association, Grace Kelly found herself on the front cover of Life magazine when in 1956 she held her ‘Sac à Dépêches’ to hide her pregnancy to husband Prince Rainer of Monaco from the flashing paparazzi. The bag became synonymous with Grace and was renamed ‘The Kelly’, which is just as well because its original name literally translates as a ‘Dispatch Bag’. In contrast, Jane Birkin had a bag especially made for her and named in her honour.
Once, all bags and luxury items were designed by inhouse designers. With the growth of the industry and an insatiable demand for new product, designer collaborations became popular. Many say that it was Karl Lagerfeld who put Chanel back on the map with his designs in the early 1980s, and Jean Paul Gaultier as creative director for Hermès in the early 2000s that helped them lose their conservative reputation (however we may never forgive him for the ‘Shoulder Birkin’!).
Considered a pioneer of modern collaboration, Louis Vuitton has made an art of specialty luxury goods and has broadened its popular range with updated styling by popular designers. Designers such as Takashi Murakami sensationalised the range in 2003 with the launch of the ‘Multicolore’, a colourful play on the monogram design. Equally, Yayoi Kusama reimagined many of the brands iconic bags such as the Speedy, Neverfull, Papillion, Lockit and Pochette Accessoires into colourful, abstract works of art. And Steven Sprouse, a Vuitton favourite best known for his colourful graffiti designs, ranks as one of Vuitton’s best associations.
The growth and demand for luxury goods remains higher than ever. Through celebrity associations, designer collaborations, and a growing appetite for Luxury goods both new and preloved, the future seems to have endless possibilities.
John D’AGATA / Head of Luxury
Banner Image: A Limited Edition Race Neverfull Mm Bag by Louis Vuitton with matching purse. $1,500 – 2,000