Legendary handbags and the women who wore them
The appeal of a historical, iconic handbag never wanes for lovers of fashion. However, the most recognisable designs have been elevated to star status thanks to the women who wore them. In honour of this, we’ve put together our favourite five handbags of the modern era; a small slice of fashion history that still resonates with so many today.
5 iconic designer handbags and the women who made them famous
Princess Diana and Dior’s ‘Lady Dior’
Designed in the Dior workshops in 1994, Dior's Lady Dior handbag was originally nicknamed ‘chouchou’ meaning, 'favourite'. Two years later Dior's piece was renamed to Lady Dior as a tribute to Princess Diana, who fell in love with this handbag on a trip to Paris. Princess Diana carried this beautiful handbag to many public events and occasions, with the bag quickly becoming described by the public as iconic and legendary.
The bag itself is rectangular and rigid, detailing Dior’s signature graphic style. The original design was inspired by two items of furniture found in Christian Dior’s private mansion; the Napoleon III chairs on which the courtier seated his guests at his runway shows, and the back of a neo-Louis XVI medallion armchair. The handbag is composed of over 140 pieces. It is adorned with four gold or silver-toned D-I-O-R letters and the Dior logo, all suspended from the handle as charms. Now, 17 years on, it is available in many different sizes and fabrics, including leather, velvet, satin, denim, crocodile, tweed, python and more. Dior's inspiration was to create a handbag with a strong identity, over time launching a larger series, selling two hundred thousand models in two years.
Jacquie Kennedy Onassis and Hermès’ ‘Constance’
Hermès most coveted handbag was designed in 1959 by Catherine Chaillet, the name given in honour of her 5th child, Constance. It became a favourite accessory of the former First Lady of the United States, Jacquie Kennedy, who popularised the handbag among Hollywood's elite.
Constance is a timeless design, most recognisable by the signature ‘H’ shaped fastener at the front. The rectangular, leather bag bears an adjustable leather strap so it can be worn over your shoulder or by your side. The Hermès Constance classical design is versatile, understated and effortlessly matches any outfit. Now available in four sizes and different colours, this celebrated historic style has been in production for 50 years and continues to grow in popularity even today.
Coco Chanel and Chanel’s ‘2.55 Flap Bag’
Mystery surrounds this quintessential handbag. As the story goes, Coco Chanel became tired of having to carry her handbags in her arms and was inspired to create a piece that freed up her hands, particularly for social occasions. In 1929 she designed the original flap bag. Some argue she was inspired by the long straps found on the bags of soldiers at the time; others say it was the bags of the stable hands at the convent where she was an orphan. After her comeback to the fashion world in the 1950’s, she relaunched the Flap Bag, naming it 2.55 after the year 1955. The new model was an instant hit among the social elite of the time.
The 2.55 Flap Bag has a number of historical features, including the original burgundy colour which some say represented the colour of the soldiers’ uniforms of the time, or the shade of burgundy of the uniforms the orphans would wear at the convent. The caretakers at this same convent carried keys on chains that would dangle from their waists. Coco adopted these chains by designing the 2.55 with a double-chained all-metal shoulder strap. The back (rear) side of the handbag has an outside flap for storing money, while the interior zipper was rumoured to have stored Coco’s secret love letters. The rectangular-shaped piece has quilted diamond or herringbone stitching to give volume and shape. The signature double lock in the shape of the CC logo didn’t debut until the 1980’s. Chanel's 2.55 current range retails today for between $5,000-$10,000 Aud.
Grace Kelly and Hermès’ ‘Kelly Bag’
The very first prototype of the Kelly handbag was designed in 1982, originally as a bag to hold saddles. After a few variations, the style we know and love today was remade into the ‘Sac a Depeche’; trapezoid in shape, closed with two straps and four studs at the bottom allowing the bag to remain upright when on a flat surface.
While filming Alfred Hitchcock's, ‘To Catch a Thief’ in 1955, Grace Kelly featured the Hermès ‘Sac a Depeche’ on screen and instantly fell in love with it. In 1956 when she married Prince Rainier III of Monaco, it’s said Grace would use her Hermes piece to hide her pregnant, growing belly from the paparazzi. Grace Kelly became an icon for beauty, elegance and style. The public soon started associating Grace with the Hermes bag and in 1977 Hermes officially renamed it the ‘Kelly Bag’. Today, this signature accessory is available in numerous fabrics, colours and sizes, ranging from $10,000-$30,000 Aud.
Audrey Hepburn and Louis Vuitton’s ‘Speedy’
The Louis Vuitton house was founded in 1854. He was a master trunk-maker, known for the craftsmanship of rigid cases and custom luggage during an era where luggage was handled roughly on horse carriages, trains and boats. By the 1930’s, the era of global travel was on the rise; air travel began to be celebrated by the elite and LV launched the Keepall, a long-shaped, hand-held duffel bag we recognise today. This multi-purpose bag became a global success in the iconic LV monochromatic colour palette.
However, it's no other than Audrey Hepburn who is responsible for the LV ‘Speedy’ handbag we know and love today. In 1965, Audrey Hepburn asked Henry-Louis Vuitton to turn the popular Keepall travel bag into a miniaturised handbag that she could carry day-to-day. This was the beginning of production of the coveted piece. Like all movie stars, Audrey Hepburn travelled frequently and was often photographed carrying the LV Speedy and it quickly reached cult status. While the style of the bag has been re-imagined over the decades, featuring different leathers, colours and designs, the classic shape always remains the same. Originally a travel accessory, the Speedy has become a modern, everyday city hold-all piece for many and a signature piece for the Louis Vuitton global brand.
Over to you…
What iconic handbag do you love most and why?
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below…