Some may say it all began with the Chanel 2.55. Others would argue that it was the Hermes Kelly. Either way, since the latter half of the 20th century, ‘It’ bags are the accessory that everyone from the Hollywood actress to the teenage girl on the high street lusts after.
But what really does make an ‘It’ bag? When Chanel created her iconic 2.55 bag in February 1955, the designer put part of herself into every stitch and seam. From the Mademoiselle lock that referenced her life as an unmarried woman (but is now more commonly replaced by the Double C lock), to the chains that mirrored those worn by the caretakers in the convent she grew up in, this bag told the story of her life. It is now worn by every one from Paris Hilton to Anna Wintour and will go down in history as one of the most recognisable icons of fashion. Equally, both the Kelly and Birkin bags by Hermes were created with a personal touch. The Kelly was named after Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, who famously used the bag to conceal her growing baby bump, and the Birkin after Jane Birkin, who sat next to the Hermes chief executive on a flight and her belongings spilt out of her straw bag. These bags now symbolise wealth and exclusivity; to get your hands on a Birkin bag is no easy challenge.
However, when Anya Hindmarch collaborated with We Are What We Do in 2007 to create an alternative to the plastic carrier bag, she created a storm. Priced at just £5.00, the unbleached cotton bag was emblazoned with the words ‘I am not a plastic bag.’ Despite Hindmarch being a highly respected bag designer, the frenzy that ensued was unforetold; it was selected to feature in the Vanity Fair goodie bags for the Oscars, 100,000 people registered to purchase it online and thirty people in Taiwan were hospitalised after being caught in a scrum to get their hands on the bag.
So from the Hermes bag that can take up to 18 hours to construct, to a simple canvas bag that costs a few pounds, is there such thing as an ‘It’ bag anymore? It seems that those at the heart of the industry themselves are now looking at the idea of an ‘It’ bag with a rather more cynical eye. Take Celine, the label that in recent years has come to epitomize the effortless and almost nonchalant style that is so desired in 2013. Remember the large plastic coated checked bags that are most commonly seen toted by your Granny for her shopping, or to pick up your washing from the laundrette in your student days? Well, for her Autumn/Winter 2013 offering for Celine, head designer Phoebe Philo took this somewhat banal print and reinvented it into luxurious, tactile woven bags that topped the wishlists of fashion bloggers and editors across the world. Of course, were you to adopt an authentic laundry bag to accessorise your Celine look, it wouldn’t quite have the same effect minus the designer label. This bag may have the fashion world salivating with desire, yet rewind to Spring/Summer 2007 and across the pond, Marc Jacobs showed near identical versions albeit stamped with the infamous LV logo. Six years later and few consumers would associate this must-have Celine model with its Louis Vuitton predecessor. Will the 2013 version withstand the ephemeral world of fashion, or will it be a short lived fad as with Jacobs’ offering? Can we class Philo’s luxurious laundry bag as an ‘It’ bag? That remains to be seen.
It seems that the criteria for an ‘It’ bag has changed since the days of the Kelly and the 2.55; the desirability of the accessory is not necessarily determined by the extortionate price, or the hours of workmanship that went into its creation. The hype that surrounds an item in itself creates ‘must-have’ status rather than the quality of leather or intricate stitching. Delhi-born designer Ashish Gupta took things one step further this London Fashion Week, showing sequined versions of our everyday plastic carrier bag. Ashish’s sartorial commentary has summed up the culture of ‘must-have’ consumerism in the form of a glitzy grocery bag. Witty and ironic or simply outrageous? You decide!
To see more of Camilla’s work, go to www.camillafloraharrison.wordpress.com.