Designing a bag that looks both silly and extremely expensive is no small feat. Luxury, as a concept, is very self-serious, the fashion industry is endlessly self-aggrandizing. People who work in luxury fashion are not, by and large, the people you look to for jokes. Even brands who specialize in novelty usually only strike the correct balance some of the time–bags made to look like a luxe little joke often end up just looking like a joke.
In my mind, only two brands get novelty bags consistently right, and the first is Judith Leiber. The brand’s formula is simple: take an object, remake it as a crystal-covered clutch. The second brand is Chanel, and although the brand hasn’t been in this particular part of the handbag game as long as Leiber, its facility for high-end irreverence might be even more impressive when you consider its range. Most of the Chanel designs in question use plexiglass as their base, but from there, almost anything can happen, depending on the seasonal theme in question.
And when it comes to these designs, themes are very important. Many of these bags appear in collections that are centered around a particular city or country with a clear aesthetic history, and the brand tends to use cultural references from those locales to inform the design direction. It’s no coincidence that the locations chosen are frequently robust or emerging fashion markets, which likely makes the bags, which are already made in limited quantities, hot commodities for local VIP customers.
Of course, these rare, special bags come at a price. Most of the recent plexiglass pieces have broken the $10,000 retail mark, with the most expensive of the group being a $43,000 pearl-covered seashell from 2012. We’ve assembled all the ones we know of in chronological order before, but because the Internet is way heavier on information about collections from the last 10 years than those that came before, we may have missed some–feel free to help us fill in any blanks you see in the comments!