Guides    National Handbag Day

The It Bag: A Historical Handbag Timeline

As we mentioned earlier this morning, October 10 marks the third annual National Handbag Day, which, in our view, is a holiday of singular importance. We’ve got lots of fun things planned for you all this week to celebrate NHD, but today, we’re taking a look back at the things that keep our site going: It Bags.

Definitions of the term “It Bag” vary a bit, and in order to take a full look back at the bags that have had the biggest impact on shoppers, we’re using one that’s a little loose. For our purposes, these are bags that have found some kind of critical mass; not only do people who are already obsessed with bags love them, but they’ve seeped over into the consciousness of much more casual fashion-watchers, often through some sort of celebrity- or entertainment-focused notoriety.

Below, take a look at the baker’s dozen of bags that have brought us to where we are now and how they did it.

1940s: The Gucci Bamboo Bag

Gucci Bamboo Bag 1940s

Gucci found itself in a quandary during World War II. Traditional handbag supplies were scarce, so the company turned to, among other things, bamboo for its accessories finishes. The look quickly took off and has since been carried by everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Princess Diana. Two years ago, Gucci let us visit its atelier to see how the iconic hardware is made.

1954: The Hermès Kelly Bag

Hermes-Kelly-Bag-32cm

Versions of the Kelly have been around since the 1800s (it used to be intended to carry a saddle), but it didn’t gain its name until Grace Kelly used the bag to shield a pregnancy from photographers in a now-iconic image. According to Hollywood lore, Kelly fell in love with the bag after legendary costume designer Edith Head chose one for Kelly’s character in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, To Catch a Thief.

1955: The Chanel 2.55 Flap Bag

Chanel-Patent-2.55-Reissue-Flap-Bag-Navy

Coco Chanel created the first version of her now-iconic shoulder bag in the 1920s, but it was during her postwar comeback that she altered the details of the bag to make the design we know today. As Chanel fanatics know, the “2.55” moniker is a shorthand for the date the current design was made: February, 1955. The bag made a return to prominence when reissued by Karl Lagerfeld in the early 2000s and is still produced today.

1984: The Hermès Birkin Bag

Hermes-Birkin-Blue-Celeste-Candy-Epsom-35cm

The Birkin’s backstory is perhaps the best-known in handbag history. Legend has it that then-Hermès CEO Pierre Louis Dumas found himself sitting next to actress Jane Birkin on a plane in 1981 and noted that she was struggling with her carry-on. She told him she had had a difficult time finding a leather bag she liked, and over the course of a couple years (brands like Hermès never do anything quickly), the Birkin was born.

Over 30 years later, the bag is still the most widely sought-after accessory in the world; it inspires obsession, consternation and legendary waiting lists. It even had its own plot line on Sex and the City. Jane Birkin, for her part, still carries a Birkin, but only owns one at a time and has complained about its heft.

1995: The Christian Dior Lady Dior Bag
Check Out Our Guide to the Lady Dior

Dior Lady Dior Bags 6

The Kelly isn’t the only bag with ties to royalty. In 1995, French First Lady Bernadette Chirac presented a Lady Dior Bag, then a brand new design from the house, to Princess Diana. It wasn’t named the Lady Dior at the time, though; after Diana carried it repeatedly during press trips, the house christened it Lady Dior in her honor.

Even years after her tragic death, interest in Princess Diana is enormous, and much of that interest involves her personal style and aesthetic preferences. She helped make the bag internationally recognizable, and her association with it still charms shoppers the world over.

1997: The Fendi Baguette Bag

Fendi Flower Leather Baguette Bag

This bag was the one that began the It Bag era. It debuted in the late 90s, just in time for repeated shout-outs from Sex and the City (including an extended metaphor of a fake Baguette as a bad marriage) to launch it into public consciousness. To this day, it takes some kind of jump from fashion-watchers to the market at large for a bag to achieve true It Bag status, although few designs get such a specific moment of pop-cultural critical mass.

2001: The Balenciaga Motorcycle Bag

Balenciaga-Classic-City-Bag

The first Motorcycle Bag was designed by Nicolas Ghesquiere himself, and at first, the brand’s parent company wasn’t sold on it. It was the brand’s models, Kate Moss among them, who took a shine to the bag, and their favor eventually convinced Kering (then PPR) to produce a limited run. Once fashion fans saw the bags on their favorite models, consumer interest took off quickly and has stayed strong for 15 years.

When the bags were first introduced, the only place to buy Balenciaga in the US was Barneys; the constraint in supply undoubtedly helped stoke desire in the bag’s first seasons.

2003: The Louis Vuitton Monogram Multicolore Speedy

Louis-Vuitton-Monogram-Multicolore-Speedy-30-Bag

Longtime Louis Vuitton creative director Marc Jacobs pioneered the brand’s long-running tradition of working with notable names from the art world, and although Takashi Murakami’s colorful, cartoonish spins on the brand’s monogram weren’t LV’s first art foray, they’re definitely the most notable: the bag was made widely famous by Jessica Simpson on Newlyweds and on the arms of the era’s most potent paparazzi bait. The collection was finally discontinued this year, after a 12-year run.

2004: The Chloé Paddington Bag

Chloe Paddington Bag

The padlock-adorned, notoriously heavy Paddington was created during Phoebe Philo’s tenure at Chloé, and its success gave her the reputation as a handbag Svengali. At the time, magazines declared it the fastest-selling handbag ever made; according to Vogue, all 8,000 of the Spring 2005 bags sold out on pre-order and not a single one touched a shop sales floor.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Paddington typified an era that still influences how designer bags are conceptualized, marketed and situated in the industry. The bag’s success built on that of the Baguette, helping make high-end designer handbags a more common part of the mass market’s style vernacular.

2005: The Fendi Spy Bag

Fendi Spy Bag RealReal

Like the Baguette, the Spy was also designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi, and it came along just in time to get swept up in the frenzy that shoppers felt for high-visibility designer handbags in the mid-to-late 2000s. It was never quite as popular as the Paddington, but then again, what was?

2010: The Céline Luggage Tote
Check Out Our Guide to the Céline Luggage Tote

Celine Tricolor Luggage Tote

The Luggage Tote is Phoebe Philo’s second act, but it’s the bag that turned Céline into a household name among anyone with even a passing interest in fashion. For several seasons running, it inspired wait lists the likes of which had not been seen since the Paddington, and its signature flared-gusset shape became an industry-wide trend.

2011: The Givenchy Antigona
Check Out Our Guide to the Givenchy Antigona

Givenchy-Antigona-Bag

The Antigona, which was first introduced in 2011, has had more of a slow burn, popularity-wise, than some of the bags on this list, but its current ubiquity qualifies it for the moniker. It’s easily Givenchy’s most popular bag of the all time, and it had a huge hand turning the bag into something of an accessories powerhouse. The Antigona is also a reigning celebrity favorite.

2013: The Chanel Boy Bag

Chanel-Small-Stingray-Boy-Bag-Yellow

If you haven’t been in the market for one, you might not realize how difficult it can be to put your hands on the most popular sizes and colors of the Boy Bag. The bag’s wait lists aren’t the stuff of lore, but they do happen every season, especially for seasonal runway pieces.

2013: The Mansur Gavriel Bucket Bag

Mansur Gavriel Spring 2015 Bags 10

In the strictest sense of the term, an It Bag is a piece that’s nearly impossible to buy for seasons at a time, and if you’re keeping it strict, not every bag on this list would qualify, even though they’re all significant. Mansur Gavriel, on the other hand, would make the list without a problem. Since its first collection in Spring 2013, the brand has never produced a season that didn’t sell out in full, and the vast majority are gone in pre-orders. When the brand does a full restock of its site, everything is gone in hours.

That’s an impressive (if not near-impossible) feat for any brand, but when the brand’s simple, red-lined bucket bag first took off, the company had no employees beyond the two founders, no offices and no PR representation. Plus, the bags sold for a reasonable $495 at launch, which is normally not enough to stir the interest of fashion’s most affluent consumers. Not only is the Mansur Gavriel Bucket Bag the world’s reigning It Bag, but it’s the most unlikely design to ever hold the title.

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missarewa
missarewa
8 years ago

I’m not sure about Mansur Gavriel. It’s easy (and smart) to be all over instagram because of the many free bags you send to bloggers, but will we be able to look at Mansur Gavriel in 10 years with the same fondness with which we look at Fendi Spy bags now? I don’t think it’s that significant…

Noemi
Noemi
8 years ago
Reply to  missarewa

I agree with you. I don’t think Mansur Gavriel’s bucket bag has already reached the status of it-bag.

Heated Mouse
Heated Mouse
8 years ago
Reply to  missarewa

Nice article , and I agree about Mansur Gavriel.

Bottega Veneta, Burberry, Nancy Gonzalez, Prada, Valentino & Yves Saint Laurent have made a bigger, long lasting splash with their contributions to the “it” bag history! Even Reed Krakoff’s iconic designs were — and are still — a hit, and he’s on sabbatical.

Cello82
Cello82
8 years ago
Reply to  missarewa

It looks hideous! Looks like a bad bag pack!

Mary Harvey
Mary Harvey
8 years ago
Reply to  Cello82

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Amanda Mull
Amanda Mull
8 years ago
Reply to  missarewa

Only time will tell with any super-trendy bag, but generally, all It Bags have vocal detractors at the time of their most ardent popularity. (I remember people saying super negative things about the Celine Luggage Tote, for example, and it only got more negative as the wait lists got longer.) In a way, that this argument is made at all sort of bolsters their position on the list.

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda Mull

I wasn’t sure about the Celine Luggage Tote either, but I bought a knock off from H&M and loved it for travel. My daughter ended up taking it to LA with her, but I still remember it as being a pretty practical bag that seemed that it would be durable in real pebbled leather. I think it might be a practical alternative to my Balenciaga bags. I would like a more structured bag for travel. I can always stuff a Bal first in it for shorter shopping trips! It may be almost out of favor now, but I don’t usually go totally on trend. There is usually a reason a bag becomes extremely popular. I can see why the Celine Luggage tote became popular. It was very practical and roomy and perfect for travel.

Pamela
Pamela
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda Mull

true and now everyone wants/has a celine bag!

Sparkletastic
Sparkletastic
8 years ago
Reply to  Pamela

Uh. No. Many of us still hate that luggage bag.

GOUGOU
GOUGOU
8 years ago
Reply to  Sparkletastic

I agree…. Never was a fan of the Luggage tote, and never will be. I find that “smiling face” so up appealing and average. Over!!!!

Bunny Rabbit
Bunny Rabbit
8 years ago
Reply to  GOUGOU

“Smiling face?” What a gracious way to put it…more like Kool-Aid man face or robot face.

Sparky
Sparky
8 years ago
Reply to  missarewa

Agree. I think they have no character or personality. Fine line between simple and featureless. The leather looks coarse and cheap. It sells out because the production is ridiculously low.

Claraj Scott
Claraj Scott
8 years ago
Reply to  Sparky

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Katy ;P
Katy ;P
8 years ago

The Gucci Bamboo bag is so stunning!

Kris
Kris
8 years ago

Can you please do a runway report on the new Loewe and Dior bags? There are so many new shapes and materials.

Handbag Divas
Handbag Divas
8 years ago
Reply to  Kris

Totally agree. Loved the Dior rundown. Loewe is crushing it with the newest
Puzzle bag. We love the story of how Loewe came up with the idea for it. Here are our top faves – Envelope, Puzzle and VBag.comment image

Amanda Mull
Amanda Mull
8 years ago
Reply to  Kris

Ask and ye shall receive: our Dior rundown went up right after this did!

Sandy
Sandy
8 years ago

I adore the Antigona…..some of the others on this list are pretty nice as well!

W S M
W S M
8 years ago

Great piece to celebrate! I love most of these bags but there’s something so right about the Fendi Spy bag. I can’t stop looking. I hope they re-introduce it.

Celin-a K
Celin-a K
8 years ago

You forgot the Dior Saddle bag!

Amanda Mull
Amanda Mull
8 years ago
Reply to  Celin-a K

Ahh yes, you’re right! I knew there was one I was going to miss. Lemme get that added tonight.

Handbag Divas
Handbag Divas
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda Mull

Amanda – We love this post. Please also add Salvatore Ferragamo to this list. They celebrated #100Years100Days this year and we think the Sophia or the Fiamma are pretty iconic.

Suzanne
Suzanne
8 years ago

This was a fun read! I’m always surprised that the Mansur Gavriel was such a hit, there are so many other bucket bags that I think are more attractive.

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago
Reply to  Suzanne

I hate bucket bags, so I am pretty sure Mansur Gavriel won’t even be a blip on my bag radar!

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago

Yep, bucket bags are just and invitation for lost items! Kinda why the Prada Saffiano tote is appealing to me.

Heated Mouse
Heated Mouse
8 years ago
Reply to  Suzanne

For sure! I’m addicted to the Hermes Market Bag! Actually, I collect them. Any fabrication is a welcome to my closet. 🙂

Unapologetic
Unapologetic
8 years ago

Mansur Gavriel? That is hilarious!

khm
khm
8 years ago

What about Prada? Not very “it” now but at one time the nylon Nero collection was all the rage and one could argue it kicked off the man-bag revolution or, alternatively, the Saffiano which started a whole new leather texture for bags?

Heated Mouse
Heated Mouse
8 years ago
Reply to  khm

Agree. They started the “it” bag trend with the nylon back pack back in the 90’s along with the Fendi baguette!

Jess
Jess
8 years ago

I remember vividly the Paddington and how much I adored it, but couldn’t afford it. I now have one ten years on, purchased second hand. I still love it to this day. And anything Chloe for that matter. Chloe does the best hand bag zips hands down!

Megs Mahoney Dusil
Megs Mahoney Dusil
8 years ago
Reply to  Jess

The Paddington was my first foray into the it bag!

Jennifer
Jennifer
8 years ago

Great post! Remember the hype from everything from Lady Dior on. Showing my age, but what a great summary. Never sold on the Paddington…liked the Silverado much better.

Heated Mouse
Heated Mouse
8 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Yup… Silverado should’ve made the list… there needs to be a Part 2 of this article!

mary
mary
8 years ago

omg i want that bamboo gucci so bad!

Annie
Annie
8 years ago
Reply to  mary

Same here!

Jenn
Jenn
8 years ago

Great list. I would just replace the Mansue Gavriel with a Marc Jacobs “Stam.”

Madison
Madison
8 years ago

What about the Saint Laurent Sac De Jour…that may be the 2014 IT bag!

Suzanne R Brown
Suzanne R Brown
8 years ago

The only bags which have stood the test of time are the Kelly, the Birkin and the Chanel quilted flap bag. They looked great when they first came out and have continued to do so. Most of the other bags listed were not that attractive in the first place and quickly have become quite dated.

To call the Kelly an “it” bag is a stretch. At that time, Hermes had very few US stores – perhaps only in NYC and all bags were special ordered. It was a bag for a very knowledgeable, few, wealthy clients. Celebrity wearing was not noticed at that time, although many famous actresses did carry them. They were copied by Lederer in NYC and many women bought those and still do.

I deplore the entire idea of an “it” bag. Good taste and classic design are the way to be chic, not being decked out in the latest “hot” fashion which quickly fades and looks dated. A wonderful handbag should be a purchase for decades, not months.

sqdel
sqdel
8 years ago

I’m a fan of the Nightingale, over the Antigona. It’s just more interesting a shape. Even thought there is no specific bag to think of Bottega Veneta’s quality should be somehow listed.

Eva Sanvel
Eva Sanvel
8 years ago

I absolutely despise the Antigona, but to each his own. Also, I feel like the Prada Galleria deserved a spot.

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago
Reply to  Eva Sanvel

My daughter really wanted an Antigona and we went to Barneys to buy her one and the more we looked at it, the less we liked it. She ended up with a Saint Laurent Sac D’Jour (ugh – it was more expensive) but it seemed to be more timeless. Of course as I have have said, she ended up carrying her Balenciaga Work more when she was in the Midwest because of the weather. I have noticed that she carries her Sac D’Jour now more that she is in LA.

Wilma
Wilma
8 years ago

Fascinating social history. Thank you for the post. Although the Kelly, Birkin and classic Chanel bags predate the “It Bag” phenomenon, their inclusion in the list illustrates their timeless appeal

Sarah N.
Sarah N.
8 years ago

How is the original LV Monogram Speedy not on this list? It’s the very definition of an it bag. Everyone who knows anything about handbags has one. I’m a little surprised at the bags missing from this list.

Amanda Mull
Amanda Mull
8 years ago
Reply to  Sarah N.

Not every popular or historically important bag is an It Bag! It’s a very specific designation that requires a bag to have a particular moment in time; lots of very historically significant, long-running bags have sustained popularity, but never a particular frenzy. It’s the frenzies we’re documenting here.

elisabeth kartika
elisabeth kartika
8 years ago

I was hoping to find Marc Jacob Stam bag on the list. That’s what triggered my bag obsession. Love that Fendi Spy bag.

Megs Mahoney Dusil
Megs Mahoney Dusil
8 years ago

Ahh the Stam! That was a great bag. It was indeed well-loved!

Wilma
Wilma
8 years ago

The It Bag phenomena seems to parallel the rise of social media and the replacement of models with celebrities as our arbitrators of fashion.

Tricia
Tricia
8 years ago

Yes totally agree with missarewa on Mansur Gavriel. It’s never in the league for the IT bag. And I can’t help but to say purse blog has overrated this bag for way too many times. Not sure whether this rave about this brand is just purse blog own doing/publicity for the brand.

Megs Mahoney Dusil
Megs Mahoney Dusil
8 years ago
Reply to  Tricia

Both Amanda and I really like Mansur Gavriel and have said so – but the truth is the MG Bucket bag is the last bag that could be considered an “it bag” in quite some time. I understand many don’t love it or think it deserves a place next to the likes of the others, but it is the first bag that has drawn a long wait list and had people clamoring for it in quite some time.

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago

People are sheep and this trend won’t last long. Horrible bag.

Sara Farooqi
Sara Farooqi
8 years ago

i think Prada saffiano tote also definitely deserved a spot here, it was and still remains so popular!

The Bag Love
The Bag Love
8 years ago

How can it be that Mansur Gavriel’s bucket exists in this list and Louis Vuitton Speedy doesn’t? Don’t get me wrong. I find the MG bucket bag crisp and of very good quality but IT bag? No. LV Speedy on the other hand, has been seen in the arm crooks of many of the most fashionable women on this planet (firstly and post importantly Audrey Hepborn’s)!

Miriam Lasington
Miriam Lasington
8 years ago

love the bag!

Naf
Naf
8 years ago

You forgot the Prada Fairy Bags!!!! Almost every celebrity carried one!!!

Megs Mahoney Dusil
Megs Mahoney Dusil
8 years ago
Reply to  Naf

The Fairy Bag def had a moment, but usually when you think of an “it bag” it holds a long slice of time. The Fairy bag was all the rage and so hard to track down, but was a small little blip

Vicky
Vicky
8 years ago

I’d add MJ Stella for 2002 and Venetia for 2003. 🙂 You won’t know how hard it is to get hold of one. And you can only get them by giving the boutique a call. Faded brick is just the IT color. I still wish I could get one.

Totally agree with other posters about Dior saddlebag.

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago

I have been in love with the Balenciaga Motorcycle bags since I first saw them. I bought a few knockoffs at first, but really wanted to try the “real deal” and bought a 2005 Teal First. It’s leather was silky and I like loved the tassels and all the zippers and compartments perfect for a cell phone and the silver inner plate. It was the lightest purse I had ever owned and I could carry it on my arm or my shoulder if I got tired. I bought other Firsts and a Part Time ( With Giant 21 hardware) and in the meanwhile I bought lots of Coach Purses that I barely even used. My two 2005 firsts just got more beautiful with age. Structured purses came in and my daughter loathed my Balenciagas. I showed up in Chicago last Winter with my 2009 Part Time and while we did look at the Balenciagas at Barneys and were planning on buying a Givency Antigona for her for her Christmas present, we ended up with a Saint Laurent Sac D’ Jour. She quickly realized that that purse had to be protected and that she couldn’t take it out in the snow or the rain, so in February she had her boyfriend buy her a Balenciaga Work Bag. It is a green Chèvre from the mid 2000’s and she loves it. Funny how now that “fringe” is in again, I am getting complements on my bags even from the clerks at 7-11, but five years ago the only people that commented were at hoity toity restaraunts. I live in Kansas City, so Barneys is not close by and no one knows what I am carrying. All I know is that vintage Balenciaga Motorcycle bags are the lightest, most beautiful and practical bags I have ever carried.

Jana Childres LeBlanc
Jana Childres LeBlanc
8 years ago

I also agree about putting the Spy above the Paddington. The problem with the Paddington was that it was too heavy to be carried comfortably. The Spy was easier to carry and had the amazing hidden pocket. I still think it is a beautiful bag.