Stored and Adored

Dedicated to Designer and Pre-Loved Bags

Saturday, 22 October 2016

What Makes a Classic Designer Bag?

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Photo by Marianna Changnon, 'Spy a Silhouette'

What makes a classic designer bag? I think that's a good, juicy question - with a lot of room for interpretation. Today, I'm going to try and tackle it, and in the process you'll hear some of my thoughts about what I think it takes for a designer bag to reach "classic" status.

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Photo by Evelyn Hill / CC BY  / edited: brighter & sharper

Let's start with a basic tenement that not everyone understands: a brand name does not necessarily denote "classic bag" status. Think about the bag in the picture above, I would feel confident betting money that you could name the brand and the model of the bag. For me, that definitely plays into whether a bag is "classic" of not, because when a bag has a strong name of its own that's when it takes on a life of its own - it develops a sort of personality, a lifestyle, an owner. When you see a handbag on shelf and you can imagine all of these things, when you know its name, that's when you're onto a classic. 

The Chanel Classic Flap is one of the more famous "classic bags". I'd feel comfortable putting the Hermes Birkin and Kelly in the same category. However, I'm also pretty sure that other bags from the same brands will not necessarily ever ascend to the same sort of status. It doesn't matter how pretty it is, how famous or functional, not all bags are made for designer bag stardom, and that's why many of them are seasonally dropped without anyone really shedding a tear. 

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Photo by Mathiew Lebreton / CC BY

Louis Vuitton is another great example, as the fashion house has a couple of great examples of established "classic bags". In the photo below you can see a number of different Speedy designs - even if you can't remember those particular models, it's likely that you identified the bag as a Speedy almost instantly. The Speedy is another "classic bag", and when I see one I can imagine its potential owner and their lifestyle - the life of the bag plays itself out for me, and this is all part of why it's still so enticing. Once a bag has reached classic status, you begin to see it around. It won't necessarily be everywhere, but you'll see it more and more and you'll develop your own weird relationship with the model. It will remind you of particular people, characteristics, fashion-choices, and if you identify with any of them then the bag starts to become more and more of an option for you.

I identify Louis Vuiton's classic Speedy (made from a canvas material, in one of three colour-ways) as a casual handbag option, usually accompanied by denim and smart-casual shoes. I see the Speedy as an everyday day bag that looks easy to carry despite the fact that it's a hand-held model. For me, it's the opposite of everything that the Louis Vuitton Neverfull stands for - another "classic bag" - which reminds me of women in suits and heels. They're often clearly overused out of habit, suggesting that for many people it was their first designer handbag.

You see - I have a personal story behind these sorts of bags, and to me they say a lot more than non-classic bags might because "classic bags" are loaded with meaning and suggestion. Dependant on the situation, this can be both a positive and negative attribute. When it comes to first impressions, sometimes it's nice for someone to notice your handbag and get an instant pre-constructed idea of who you are (particularly useful at a job interview, for example). However, most of the time I would hate to be confined to a stereotype suggested by my personal possessions and that's why I love vintage and pre-loved designer bags, which give you the option to stand out from the crowd.

stored and adored designer bag blog
Photo by Yumi Kimura / CC BY / edited: brighter & sharper

So, I feel like I've expressed what exactly I mean by "classic bag", and I've shared some examples. However, you might be wondering "how does a bag become a classic?" I don't know if I have the answer to that question, because that's a lot more complicated and would vary from bag to bag. I think that nowadays celebrity endorsement can have a big impact of bag sales, but I don't think that they necessarily always leave a lasting impression. This is important because I think that one aspect of a "classic bag" is that it has to have longevity, because if it's here and gone within two seasons then it simply won't sell enough models to reach classic status.

There are a few very popular new-ish bags that a lot of people believe have the potential to really stand the test of time; here, I'm referring to Chanel's Boy Bag and Givenchy's Antigona. These two bags have a serious amount of hype surrounding them, and they've also been around for long enough to suggest that the brands are really pushing to keep them in the catalogue. They're both similar to the classic bags I've mentioned already, the Chanel Classic Flap and the Louis Vuitton Speedy, but they're  slightly more modern and trendy. Whether that works in their favour or against them I'm not quite sure, but I don't think that I'm ready to hop on the bandwagon for either.

storedandadored designer bag blogPhoto by Masaaki Komori / CC BY / edited: brighter & sharper

Something that has been happening recently is that brands have been revamping the "classic bags" in their catalogue. This has definitely happened to Loewe with their Flamenco and Amazona bags, as well as with Mulberry who are currently overhauling their bag designs including their famous Bayswater bag. This suggests that sometimes brands outgrow their classics, even when consumers are still hungry for them. I think that in Loewe's case it has been a positive change, and the brand's modern upgrade has led to really popular new modern-classics such as the Puzzle Bag. However, Mulberry's overhaul - championed by their new creative director Johnny Coca, who moved from CĂ©line - just doesn't sit quite so comfortably. I certainly believe that "classic bags" can evolve, Loewe  pays testament to that, as does Louis Vuitton with it's seasonal limited edition designs, but it doesn't always work. 

In contrast, sometimes new classic styles come out of the blue and just speak for themselves - and that's what I think Fendi's Peekaboo bags do. In the photo below, you can see one of the larger Peekaboo models and you can see how it's reminiscent of Hermes' designs, but there's something youthful and high-fashion about it that makes it special. It probably doesn't hurt that every celebrity under the sun has been seen sporting one of these in one of its manifold sizes. For me, as a young person, it has helped make a style that could have been seen as rather boxy and severe as something much more wearable. Ironically, for me, celebrity styling and street style photos had the opposite effect when it came to the Saint Laurent Sac de Jour, I'm pretty much convinced that they're overly structured and unwieldy. 

stored and adored designer bag blog
Photo by Fervent-Adepte-de-la-Mode / CC BY / edited: brighter & sharper

Although this might not totally answer my question, I think that sustained/growing popularity over time is a really important factor for identifying a classic designer bag. Remaining in the regular seasonal catalogue is a good indicator of potential classic status, but it doesn't guarantee it. Some bags command interest without being inherently interesting (for me, Mansur Gavriel falls into this category), whilst others are true slow-burners whose popularity is unlikely to burn-out. 

What do you think makes a classic designer bag? 
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.

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