In Vogue’s fabulously informative video, Everything You Need to Know About the It Bag, international editor at large Hamish Bowles schools us on, well, everything you could possibly want to know about the history of a handful of now-iconic designer it bags.
In the ’90s, Fendi’s baguette (not to be confused with a loaf of bread!), and Dior’s saddle and lady bags were created, but their following even now, remains strong as ever. Both of these legacy houses offer modern, newly produced versions of these classic styles—seen carried on film screens, on the arms of supermodels, and cool-girls up and downtown. Most recently, Prada’s colorful Re-Issue nylon shoulder bags as well as Gucci’s Diana totes have regained traction and have found cult status once again.
And what of the next generation? Though not as established as their forebears, Daniel Lee’s Bottega Veneta cassette bag, Jonathan Anderson’s puzzle bag for Loewe, and Alessandro Michele’s Gucci Jackie shoulder bag have already won the hearts of street style fanatics and Vogue editors alike.
Timelessness is an important factor when making a fashion-related investment, and the majority of these bags haven’t lost their momentum since they were first created over 30 years ago. Many of them only seem to get better with age. But where can one shop the latest iteration of the It bag if you don’t already own one? From iconic styles to modern classics, take a deep dive of these 15 silhouettes and even more styles to choose from, below.
In Bottega Veneta’s pre-fall 2019 collection, a new bag was introduced. Called the Cassette after its rectangular shape, the crossbody featured an oversized weave, almost as though you were looking through a microscope at the maison’s classic intrecciato. A season later, at the fall/winter 2019 collection, models took the runway toting chubby, puffed-up versions of the bag: enter, the Padded Cassette. The fashion world fell hard for that irresistible bag, which Lee eventually remixed with a hulking gold chain strap and, more recently, an assortment of candy-colored leathers and suede fabrications.
When the Jodie bag was born, it had no name; it was only after a shot of Jodie Foster shielding herself from flashbulbs with a large black Bottega bag that Bottega changed that. The bag, which arrived in stores in early 2020, shared many characteristics with Bottega’s classic Hobo bag, only Lee put a knot into the handle to make it his own. The Jodie comes in many sizes— maxi, standard, mini—but is always crafted in an intrecciato leather (except when it’s sheathed in cushy shearling) and made in Italy. Colors range from fuchsia pink to a perfect chocolate color—but there’s really no wrong choice.
Just about a year into his appointment as Loewe creative director Jonathan Anderson added a significant handbag to the Loewe repertoire, one that gave the skills of the label’s craftspeople an especially fine showcase. Enter the Puzzle bag, which was first seen at the men’s spring 2015 show in Paris; at Anderson’s Loewe, handbags are for everyone. Like all Loewe bags, the Puzzle is handcrafted in Madrid, with approximately nine pieces of leather precisely patchworked together. (The process takes an estimated nine hours.) Available in calfskin, pebbled calfskin, and goatskin in regular, small, mini, and nano sizes, the bag didn’t take long before turning up on all the chicest influencers and culture-makers; head to a fashion show, gallery opening, or in-the-know cocktail party, and you’re bound to spot a piece of the Puzzle.
John Galliano can be credited with giving the world the Saddle Bag in 1999, as part of Dior’s spring 2000 ready-to-wear collection. It was a handbag to mark a dawning age; how else were we expected to ride into the new millennium? Photos from the collection feature cut-up denim looks with thigh-high side slits and hardly any hemlines that fell straight. The style soon traveled outside the fantasy of the Galliano-verse and into the mainstream; Carrie Bradshaw carried the bag (it’s where she stashed her emergency cigarette during an unsuccessful nonsmoking stint), and so too did fixtures of the aughts like Simple Life costars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie and The O.C.-era Mischa Barton. The bag’s defining feature was its shape, and Galliano had a ball swathing it in everything from an Oblique monogram colored in baby pink to Japanese-inspired floral embroideries. Soon after its introduction, the purse earned It bag status with recurring resurgences. In 2018, our craze for all things Y2K delivered a strong renaissance for the Saddle, and current Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri returned the style to the runway for her Americana patchwork collection that fall. Since then we’ve all been very much back in the saddle.
The Lady Dior
In 1989, Gianfranco Ferré began his appointment as creative director for the house of Dior. One of his most lasting contributions to the brand is unquestionably the Lady Dior bag. As the story goes, in 1995, Bernadette Chirac, the wife of French president Jacques Chirac, rang up Dior with a request: She wanted the maison to craft a custom bag that would be gifted to Princess Diana on her visit to Paris. The resulting design was, appropriately, fit for a princess. It featured black quilted leather (a design inspired by the upholstery on the Napoleon III chairs Monsieur Dior used at his first shows) that wrapped an elegantly rectangular box. Like the posture required of such a lady, the bag didn’t and couldn’t slouch—and perhaps nodded to Monsieur Dior’s design philosophy: “I wanted my dresses to be constructed like buildings,” he once said. The Lady Dior bag was also crafted with a pair of demi-arched handles and yellow gold hardware. The prim purse was presented to Princess Diana at a Cézanne exhibition at the Grand Palais, and she wore it on subsequent visits to Birmingham, England, and Argentina. The bag was as beloved as the woman who inspired it, and it’s since become a permanent fixture within Dior’s handbag collection. As of late, the bag has been offered in small, medium, and large sizes fabricated—by hand—in supple calf leather, patent leather, Dior’s famed toile de Jouy, and other jazzier renditions and remixes.
In 1997 Bill Clinton began his second term, NASA sent a rover to cruise around Mars, and Good Will Hunting was released. It was also the year that Fendi gave the world the Baguette, often considered the first-ever It bag. Created by Venturini Fendi, the bag—Fendi’s purse de résistance—was initially unpopular among the Fendi design team, which was hesitant to make such a statement with a handbag at a time when minimalism was the order of the day. Featuring a slight silhouette, a single strap, and a flap closure, it first appeared with a beige FF motif in a woolly textile and a removable strap constructed from a camellia-colored leather.The beauty of the Baguette is that it’s a blank canvas, designed to take on the mood of the current collection. (In an October 2000 episode of Sex and the City that cemented the accessory as a status symbol, Carrie Bradshaw’s Baguette—targeted by a petty thief—shimmers in grape juice–colored sequins.) Since its debut, thousands of variations of the Baguette have been introduced into the Fendi oeuvre. The bag is generally offered in three main sizes, a standard Baguette (27 cm long x 15 cm high), a Baguette mini (19 cm long x 11.5 cm high), and a Baguette multi (28 cm long x 17 cm high, with two straps), but its finishes vary season to season. The classic Zucca logo, moreover, has recently been remixed into a swirling monogram dubbed “FF Vertigo” in collaboration with artist Sarah Coleman. No matter which Baguette you go for, the choice is a delicious one.
The Jackie 1961
Like the enduring allure of the woman it’s named after, The Jackie is a bag that will never go out of style. In 1961, Gucci introduced a Hobo-style bag that caught the eye of Jackie Kennedy, whose husband so famously loved Gucci’s loafer moccasins. It’s said that upon seeing a paparazzi image of Jackie Kennedy with the bag (then called the Fifties Constance), the Gucci family swiftly christened it the Jackie. The classic hobo-shape saw many iterations under Tom Ford and Frida Giannini, but its latest incarnation comes by way of Michele, who in 2021 gave us a spin on The Jackie with a bit more structure, an adjustable strap, and a piston closure. Back in 2014, Giannini made Kate Moss the star of the Jackie Bag campaign; now, Harry Styles is ushering in the bag’s new era.
In the late 1990s, one often saw Princess Diana headed to and fro with a bamboo-handled Gucci bag. Hers was in putty-colored suede, and even when it accessorized her biker shorts and sweatshirts on trips to the gym, she made it look divine. As mentioned above, bamboo-handled bags have been a part of the Gucci repertoire since the very beginning, and the style has never really left the house. On Thursday, July 1, 2021—what would have been Princess Diana’s 60th birthday—Michele gave us The Diana Bag, a bamboo-handled tote much like the version worn by the Princess. On this bag we get a logo of double-Gs facing the same direction (Michele’s remix of the Gucci monogram is one of many celebrated interventions he’s made at the house) because it wouldn’t be Michele’s without a madcap flourish, he added a neon-colored elastic strap. The latter is a playful, removable touch that references the elastic bands Gucci uses to help its bamboo keep its shape.
As travel became a more frequent recreation, stackable and stiff luggage was replaced with softer, more packable travel accoutrements, and Louis Vuitton reacted in kind with its Speedy bag—or, as it was known at the time of its 1930 debut, the “Express.” Crafted with waxed, coated canvas featuring the famed monogram and vachetta leather handles and piping, the Speedy was equal parts pliable and durable. But its conversion from a luxurious-yet-practical travel bag to a purse to be seen carrying had all to do with Audrey Hepburn, who, in 1959, asked the maison to size down its 30 Speedy (the number denotes the width of the bag in centimeters) to 25. Shortly thereafter, the global movie star was seen toting the satchel to and fro, and the rest was history. Today, the bag continues to be made in a similar fashion, with slight tweaks; in 2011 came the Speedy Bandouliere and in 2015, an interior zipper pocket was introduced.
The history of Balenciaga’s City bag—and its reign as an It bag for a decade and then some (the bag is back, hadn’t you heard?)—has a little something to do with Kate Moss and a lot to do with Nicolas Ghesquière. The latter was Balenciaga’s creative director at the time, and after planning for a City bag-like prototype to go into production, Ghesquière was told to pull the plug: The thinking was that a signature bag belonging to a house such as Balenciaga should be prim and structured, fitting nicely within the crooks of the arms of uptown ladies on their way to lunch. What Ghesquière had put forth was squishy, studded, shapeless, and altogether more downtown in spirit. Still, in 2001, Ghesquière managed to convince the Balenciaga higher-ups to let him produce 25 bags for his next runway show—and the rest is history. (As the story goes, Kate Moss took a liking to the bag, and so did just about everyone else.) Like a Venti Starbucks cup, Balenciaga’s City bag became a fashion-world fixture, toted around by all of Hollywood’s pretty young things; it was an It bag for the It girl. Introduced as the Motorcycle, the City bag now has several iterations and names (size being the main differentiating factor).
Hannah MacGibbon, creative director from 2008 to 2011, gave an equestrian twist to the easygoing hobo bag when she designed the Marcie in 2010. This model stands out for its curved, saddle-like front flap with topstitching details that lends itself to iteration. The house has played with different finishings and proportions, and the roundness of the mini Marnie faintly echoes the distinctive circular shape of the perfume bottle from the brand’s first fragrance, launched in 1975. On a more conceptual level, the hobo silhouette is suggestive of freedom and travel, which are core Chloé values. “I lived the life I wanted to,” Aghion once said. “I always wanted to remain independent, so I went for it. I had incredible strength and boldness.”
In 2019, Prada introduced a line crafted with a textile christened Re-Nylon—a material developed by Aquafil and made from upcycling industrial nylon waste like fishing nets and carpets—reprising several styles in the Italian house’s archive. Enter the Re-Edition handbags; the two most popular styles being the Re-Edition 2000 and the Re-Edition 2005, sportif satchels with little adornment save for the upside-down Prada triangle nameplate. (One key difference between them, however, is their strap: while the former’s is woven, the latter’s is leather.) We don’t need to tell you that there’s also a Re-Nylon backpack, and certainly don’t need to inform you about the Re-Nylon Prada bucket hats; just about everyone is wearing them right now. But as far as It bags go, look no further than the 2000 and 2005—two very good years.
Freshly appointed Céline’s creative director, Phoebe Philo gave the label a handbag that sent the world into a full-on fashion tizzy. The Luggage Tote, with its signature squiggles and expandable shape, was minimalist in look, but with enough personality to be nicknamed The Smile bag. (Look close, and you’ll see a sort of face.). The style launched in 2011, and it didn’t take long for demand to reach waiting-list status. Roomy yet refined, the Luggage Tote decorated the arms of all the most discerning people—it was an It bag, yes, but one that was to be taken seriously. With only the tiniest of logos, printed in dainty metallic letters, the Luggage Tote didn’t need anything else to indicate that it was a bag worth carrying. The bag is still coveted to this day, and can be found in a range of sizes.
In the fateful month of February 1955, Gabrielle Chanel presented a bag that would forever define the house of Chanel, even sans logo! (It was Mr. Lagerfeld who thought to apply the interlocking Cs to the bag; more on that below.) The exterior was quilted wool, inspired by the saddle blankets at the horse races Gabrielle frequented. Now the bags come in a variety of leathers and the interiors are a burgundy color, allegedly the same shade as the uniforms Gabrielle wore in the convent. (The chains on which the nuns’ keys jangled was another point of reference, inspiring the ingenious chain strap that converted a shoulder bag into a crossbody.) The front lock, now dubbed by the house as the Mademoiselle, is an elegant rectangular closer. In 2005, the 2.55 was famously re-issued by Karl Lagerfeld, who then watched the heritage handbag ascend to It-bag greatness.
The grand dame of It bags really needs no introduction. She’s the Birkin, named after Jane Birkin, and she came onto the scene in 1984. A bag of a very different variety features in the Birkin’s origin story: In the early ’80s, Ms. Birkin found herself sitting next to Jean-Louis Dumas, then-chief executive of Hermès, on an Air France flight from Paris to London. It’s said that after the contents of her straw bag spilled during an exchange with Dumas, the two set about designing Birkin’s ideal accessory on a paper bag provided by the airline for nauseous passengers. Little did they know, fashion history was being doodled that day. Rumors about the waiting lists are true; so too are reports that a Birkin is as good an investment as pure gold. Famously, Ms. Birkin sported her Birkin with travel stickers on it, but most lucky owners of the bag today—which can reach a staggering $400,000 depending on which exotic skin you choose and the size of the diamond you’d like encrusted in the hardware—likely wouldn’t dream of defacing the handbag with their own sticky additions. Nevertheless, it all began with Ms. Birkin’s uncalculated chic.
For more handbag histories: