Do Heritage Brands Have a Handbag Monopoly?

Perhaps the reign of fashion’s big players has gone too far

Fashion is like a game of monopoly. But instead of a board, there’s a cohort of model-laden catwalks; and instead of shiny playing pieces, there are enviable designs; and instead of a top hat-wearing mascot, there are creative directors from the most esteemed labels who decide what’s hot, and what’s not.

And this is no truer for a fashion industry sector than bags. Established heritage brands have long dominated the designer handbag market. The industry’s constant stream of ‘It’ bags released since the 1990s have predominantly been designed by a cohort of French and Italian Maisons that have remained household names within fashion for years.

Not to say that luxury bags, and the fashion industry as a whole, is a market absent of competition. Top designers cannot simply churn out instantly cult-worthy styles season after season without facing any rivalry. But rather, luxury’s big players collectively appear to have a monopoly on the handbag market, dictating the trends and managing to keep their designs at the top of every handbag aficionado’s wish list.

This doesn’t leave much room for new and emerging designers to break into fashion’s ultra-exclusive handbag club, with styles from newer labels being, dare we say, overlooked. So, how true is this notion that fashion’s household names have a monopoly on one of the industry’s most talked-about and profitable sectors? What’s behind it? And which brands, if any, stand to challenge their dominance?

The Heritage Brand Handbag Monopoly

To understand the (almost) monopoly that brands like Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dior, Fendi, and Prada have on the designer handbag market, we first need to look at fashion history. A huge amount of these brands’ success when it comes to bags can be attributed to their classic styles first launched decades ago.

Bags in the Wild NYC April 2022 12

Take the Hermès Birkin. Landing on fashion’s hot list in the 1980s, the Birkin has remained one of the French Maison’s most in-demand bags and certainly the most famous. In addition to its evergrowing price tag that increases each year (far transcending the rate of inflation), new materials, prints and colors are added to the style’s roster season after season. The result? The Birkin’s demand has grown much like its price, with the design becoming increasingly sought after each year.

And this aspect of the Birkin’s story is not unique. All the heritage luxury labels we know and love boast a selection of long-established classic styles which they reinterpret and reissue, allowing their names to remain at the top of the handbag hot list. And fashion’s reliance on retro revivals plays perfectly into the dominance of these labels and their long-established classic handbags.

It’s also important to note the reputation that these age-old classics afford brands. Who better to look to for your next handbag purchase than the label behind the Chanel Classic Flap or the Fendi Baguette?

The ‘It’ Bag Factor

There’s no doubt that the concept of the ‘It’ bag feeds into the seeming monopoly heritage brands have on the handbag market. But it could also be the key to breaking it. By its very nature, an ‘It’ bag shocks us, introducing new ideas and trends to the industry. And what better way to surprise and excite handbag lovers than designs from new and emerging labels.

Miami Bags In The Wild 6 of 21.jpg

This partly explains the instant cult popularity of styles like the Jacquemus Le Chiquito in 2017 and the Telfar Shopping Bag in 2014 when the respective brands were relatively new to the fashion scene. These bags each brought something new and covetable to the handbag market.

They not only helped each label gain recognition and status but, above all else, they proved the power of innovation from new sources. Fashion as an industry depends on new designers storming in and shaking things up. And nothing disrupts fashion quite like the latest ‘It’ bag.

The Brands Shaking Things Up

It’s not just Jacquemus and Telfar threatening heritage labels’ dominance within the luxury bag market. A cohort of newer brands are releasing handbags rivaling the popularity of established labels’ designs.

Telfar Shopping Tote.jpg
Gigi Hadid Self Portrait Bag

Take Self-Portrait’s Bow bag. Debuting as part of the London-based label’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection, this structured top handle design has been dubbed a modern classic and spotted on the arms of Olivia Rodrigo and Selena Gomez. The brand, founded in 2013, has launched campaigns starring the Bow bag alongside Naomi Campbell and Gigi Hadid. It’s released the bow-embellished style in myriad colorways, materials, and sizes (including mini and micro iterations – a sure-fire indication of a design’s popularity).

Another designer disrupting the luxury handbag market is Coperni’s coveted curved style – the Swipe bag. The most famous iteration is a version made entirely from glass, which, upon first landing on the Paris-based label’s Fall/Winter 2022 runway, sent shockwaves throughout the fashion industry. And while this hard-shell adaptation of the style may lack the functionality needed for long-lasting success, it helped the popularity of Coperni’s Swipe bag skyrocket.

One other notable mention is the BENEDETTA BRUZZICHES Vitty La Mignon, a glitter-
embossed flap bag style, which channels Y2K fervor.

So, what are the key takeaways? The coveted classics and new styles of fashion’s big names will continue to play a huge part in the designer handbag market. But, perhaps these long-established labels shouldn’t get too comfortable. After all, fashion is an industry always searching for the next big thing. And if one thing’s for sure, we’re certainly excited to watch styles battle it out in the handbag arena.


Leave a Comment

  1. Sara Avatar

    The history for LV and Chanel is that they both were Nazi collaborators. I won’t wear their names. There are lots of other fabulous fashion houses.

    1. Sarah G Avatar
      Sarah G

      Henry Ford was an active antisemite… does this mean no one should drive Ford cars today?

      1. Sara Avatar

        There are many reasons not to drive a Ford. But, no, I don’t want the names of Nazis on my clothes, cars or bags. I don’t think I am setting too high of a standard.

      2. Guest Avatar

        Not really a fan of Chanel. But I thought this has been disproven? Also the Wertheimers eventually owned Chanel, and ironically the are Jewish.

    2. Leah Avatar

      It’s sad but also true that many of these companies and people were nazi supporters before WW2. As a Jew myself and a supporter of Israel I am aware of the history. I personally would rather support Lagerfelds collection than the vintage pieces Coco designed.

      1. Steph Avatar

        Believe it’s about the death of Jews and others…. Seriously, it’s never forgotten, such ignorance…

  2. psny15 Avatar

    I buy bags based on if I like them or not

    I dislike louis Vuitton and most Hermes bags so in my case heritage doesn’t matter

  3. Fabuleux Avatar

    Heritage is a very important aspect of marketing. This is why when you walk into an Hermès boutique, you’ll spot a saddle and other equestrian gear—even though Hermès sells a lot more scarves, belts, and sneakers than saddles… When you walk in a Louis Vuitton store, you ll see steamer trunks around the store. Thus, when you buy a key ring, you find yourself sharing in the mythical world of transatlantic travel… It’s all psychological tricks to help the customer create a conscious or unconscious relationship between the product they are buying and the rich and romanticized history of the brand.

  4. Ed B Avatar
    Ed B

    Like many other types of brands, handbag brands need to sell an image/story/feeling. Yes, function matters (to most) and yes beauty matters but no brand makes it huge without having a specific clientele and vision. Joke all you want about Mood Boards and such but there’s a reason that sort of vision and work every collection is so important to all fashion and accessories brands. Even if you don’t look like the models on the runway, the overall aesthetic matters.

    Can a new or smaller brand not build this? Of course they can! When I think “Polene” I can practically see the previous ads and sorts of tones and clothes they pick for the Polene Woman. But it’s just much, much harder to do that without having a long history to fall back on. A lot of smaller brands will be one-hit wonders or no-hit tiny brands that can’t grow much because they can’t build a big enough story that people want to be a part of. A couple bad collections can put a small brand under. Yet older, “heritage” brands can get away with multiple bad collections in a row because they have “classics” that generate enough revenue and keep interest live. Chanel would have to put like 10 bad collections in a row to lose that faith that it has with its clientele, imo.

  5. bir Avatar

    truth is NEW handbags …….. what is NEW i ask because, in the last 15 years… when you see something truly NEW it is not something that changes the mechanics looks and general feel of a bag, Telfar a basic tote with a logo….the newest shape disruptive shape i have ever seen in the last decade or so has to be the vuitton theda, the hermes lindy, and some bags from Loewe, i might even say the collaboration bags like Zaha hadid *chanel* and frank Gherry *vuitton* or maybe the gabriela hearst bags, any other bag is simply an re/interpretation of something basic, an item transporter ……. because in essence how can you change a bags basic structure, its like trying to change an umbrella, 2022 and … still the same basic function and design for a portable rain roof. When brands do try to change they don’t always work right, again the lindy the theda functionality is very questionable. having said that……. well i have not seen anything truly new …. but within the realm of new….i like if ever they are new.. THE ROW bags…

  6. Zoe Avatar

    They have the heritage power as long as customers give it to them. As long as consumers see bags as investment and as status statement. Fashion is more than that… So i do not believe in heritage power of any brand.

  7. FashionableLena Avatar

    I honestly don’t care about heritage at all. I want a well-made, functional handbag that’s a little jazzy. Being luxury or designer is a plus but not necessary. I realized about ten years ago that I’m really not a fan of Louis Vuitton, Chanel, or Hermes handbags. I like a few of their bags but not enough to purchase.
    When it comes to those particular brands, I really would like a Chanel tweed jacket, LV sunglasses, and an Hermes clic clac bracelet.

  8. ChippyGal Avatar

    Heritage doesnt mean that much to me, and even when it does, it wouldn’t make me buy a new bag from that brand, I’d go for a vintage bag. I have a vintage LV and I love it. WOuldn’t buy a new one. As for Chanel, I’d love a Diana bag, and I also like the reissue, but the classic flaps bore me. They are so so oversaturated. Hermes does have amazingly made bags, but so do some lesser expensive brands such as Loewe. My Loewe basket is one of my favorite bags. I mostly now go for bags I like the look of, and don’t care if it is designer or not. Most of my bags, except for the Loewe basket and a few YSL don’t have logos on them. I like a nicely made bag not shouting, “I can afford x brand”. My most used bag at the moment is a Russsel and Bromley bag, which I bought as it was the most perfect shade. And it has a gorgeous top handle shape. I’ve had a ton of compliments on it. Oddly a few people thought it was Chanel, even though it has no CC obviously.
    As for new bag shapes, i do think Strathberry have done something truly gorgeous with their totes. And I love the Bow bag too.

  9. Alisa Avatar

    I’m less interested in heritage than in quality and craftsmanship. I appreciate the leathers, stitching, leather rather than fabric linings, and the non-assembly-line approach of Hermès. But most of their designs are conservative and not for everyone 🙂

    I generally prefer their more under-the-radar styles (although I do own 2 Kellys and a Birkin) but am equally devoted to my Delvaux Tempête, a wonderful Belgian heritage brand at a much friendlier price point.

  10. Nata Avatar

    In discussing the topic, I feel money plays a huge part. Over the years I have come to learn a few things about fashion and bags having seen many styles come and go. The classics from the big name houses persist because they offer: 1) – enduring style. 2) – status. 3) – ease of use. 4) – craftsmanship and then because you can rely on their ongoing popularity…..5) – return on major investment. They are far easier to sell and that counts for a lot.

    When you have to parcel out your fashion dollars wisely (i.e. you don’t have a lot of them!) you don’t want to blow your wad on products from newbie designers whose offerings could risk being a flash in the pan. A mere few years from now those bags could look ridiculously dated and you wouldn’t even able to give them away. Maybe – maybe not.

    I remember coming upon Phoebe Philo’s Chloe Paddington with the lock and was just in love like that and had to have it. I knew very little about the brand or the designer at the time. Certain pieces are instant icons. See Balenciaga Moto bags. These labels had some retro Euro cachet in the early 2000’s but were not the powerhouse brands they are today. The talents of their brilliant designers shook up the fashion world on their own merits – not the brand’s. I bought a lot of Chloe bags for a while because there was so much to love about them. It wasn’t about prestige since the people in my world were clueless as to their fashion values. Gradually most of these bags ended up being sold by me to make way for certain classics and that taught me thing or two. Chloe bags were selling for $1200 to $2500 full retail in 2009 and Chanels were slightly higher.. What are these same Chloe bags selling for today vs the Chanel counterparts? Yup.

    I’m not knocking buying indie bags. Certainly there is a cool factor in being an original and a maverick and fashioning your own statement. In practical terms, though, it makes sense (to me) to cover the basics first in building your wardrobe if you can and then splurge on the riskier pieces.