Iconic Bags and the Women Who Inspired Them

Iconic Bags and the Women Who Inspired Them

Did you know that many of the bags we call iconic today owe not only their names but also their success to inspiring women? Some are more known – the Birkin bag for example, but there are some bags which you would have never guessed that they had a “celebrity godmother” who were either the inspiration for the bags or helped them to fame (or sometimes both).

You can also watch my video here:

Audrey Hepburn and the Louis Vuitton Speedy 25

The biggest surprise may be the Louis Vuitton Speedy 25 who owes some of its success to none other than Audrey Hepburn. The Speedy was first launched in 1930 and was then called “Express” referring to the change in the travel industry as commercial flights became more popular and travel significantly faster. The first version of the Speedy, the Speedy 30, came without any logos but it was soon also launched with the signature monogram. Its shape references duffle bags and it the first model was 30 cm wide which was smaller than their travel bag “Keepall” lauched in 1924. And this new bag was not a travel bag per se but could be used every day but it still had the option to be folded and put in a suitcase when travelling.[1]

Audrey Hepburn at Heathrow airport in 1965 with the Speedy 25.

In 1965, Audrey Hepburn requested a smaller version, 25 cm, to be made by Louis Vuitton – in the Sixties, the bag was available in the sizes 30, 35 and 40. Hepburn then was already world-famous after her movies “Roman Holiday” and especially after “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” in 1961. It was a smart move by Louis Vuitton – they agreed and Hepburn was then seen taking her Speedy model almost everywhere. She was spotted at Heathrow airport in 1965 wearing a fur-edged coat and knee-high boots (see picture above). She also was seen at a lunch in Paris in 1967 (with a Givenchy suit) and in Rome with a suede headscarf and matching gloves in 1968. Soon after Hepburn, many more celebrities and style icons became fans of the Speedy 25 such as Jackie Kennedy and Lauren Bacall.[2]

2. Lady Dior

You may have heard about the woman behind the popularity of the Lady Dior bag – Diana, Princess of Wales received the bag as a gift from Bernadette Chirac, the wife of the former French president Jacques Chirac, in 1995 during the opening of the Cézanne exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris. The princess obviously really liked the bags because over the next year, the princess was seen often carrying the bag: At the Met Gala 1996, she paired it with a blue Dior slip dress, she carried the bag when visiting children’s homes, or on an official visit to Liverpool in 1995 when she wore an orange Versace ensemble in 1995.[3]

Princess Diana carrying the Lady Dior bag on an official visit to Liverpool.

The Maison decided to change the name of the bag from the previous “Chouchou” to “Princesse” but then soon to Lady Dior as a tribute to Diana in 1996. In its press kit it announced it as “Lady, Lady Di, Lady Dior”. The bag had already existed for a bit more than a year but Dior was obviously ahead of their time because few customers appreciated it. Bernadette Chirac contacted Dior to euqnire about a gift for the princesses’ visit and the brand suggested the “Chouchou”.[4]

The original version of the bag was designed by Gianfranco Ferré who was the then creative director of Dior. It reflects the heritage of the House of Dior: the metallic charms with the letters of the name on one strap are a reference to the lucky charms and amulets Christian Dior himself cherished. The stitching pattern, or quilting, of the bag is called “cannage” and is a nod to the canework of Napoleon III chairs and the back of the Louis XV chairs used for guests during the Dior runway shows. Since its launch, the brand has released many interpretations of the bag which until today, is made of 130 individual pieces.[5]

3. Gucci Jackie 1961

This bag was also born with another name: the Fifties Constance. Jackie Kennedy had become a style icon in the 1960s – she was famous for her signature suits paired with pillbox hats. Later on, her style evolved and in the 1970s, she left the “First Lady”-style suits behind and adopted a more casual and modern style which also reflected her jet-set life with her second husband shipowner and tycoon Aristotle Onassis. One of her signature looks was a silk scarf (often Hermès) with big sunglasses and the Jackie bag.[6]

Jackie’s signature look of the 1970s: a silk scarf, big sunglasses and the Gucci Jackie.

According to a story, Jackie Kennedy Onassis walked into a Gucci store in 1964 and left with multiple versions of the “Constance”. As she was seen carrying the bag so often, Gucci later named the bag “Jackie” after her to honour her loyalty. The bag reflected the 1970s fashion trends: it has half-moon-shape and looks much softer and elegant – the total opposite of the austere and structure bags of the time. It has a signature piston-shaped closure but no obvious logos (the exception is the monogram edition) – hence, it was popular because only those who knew could identify the bag and the brand.[7]

The Gucci Jackie became one of the most photographed handbags of the 1970s.

Jackie wore the bag everywhere – she was photographed with it at her apartment, while shopping, ore when travelling and it is one of the most photographed bags of the 1970s – probably also due to her famous wearer. Since then, the bag has seen many reiterations: under Tom Ford, then also under Frida Giannini in the 2014 campaign modelled by Kate Moss and under Alessandro Michele for the Fall/Winter 2021 collection.[8]

4. The Sofia Bag by Ferragamo

The Sofia bag by Ferragamo is a tribute to the friendship between Sophia Loren and Salvatore Ferragamo.

A lesser known bag model but with an iconic “godmother” is the Sofia Bag by Ferragamo. The Italian actress Sophia Loren and Salvatore Ferragamo became friends and bonded over their love for Naples – Loren spent her childhood there and Ferragamo moved to Naples as a young men to learn the craft of shoemaking. He soon supplied many movie stars from Marilyn Monroe to Audrey Hepburn and Judy Garland with his custom-made shoes for not only her film roles but also for their everyday wardrobe. Similarly, Loren was a loyal customer. After Ferragamo’s passing in 1960, his family took over and still runs the business today. The house thanked Loren for her loyalty and support of the brand by creating the Sofia bag in 2009.[9]

5. The Hermès Birkin Bag

Probably the most iconic bag: the Birkin bag. Jane Birkin was an actress and singer with British and French roots. In addition to her success in French cinema, she was also famous for her romantic liaison with Serge Gainsbourg, a French singer-songwriter, actor, composer, and director. The story behind the bag is known: Birkin happened to sit next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the then CEO of Hermès on a flight from London to Paris in 1983.[10]

Dumas has been credited with turning Hermès into a global brand. His grandfather was Émile-Maurice Hermès who moved the business from his equestrian roots to a fashion brand and introduced the silk scarves with Jean-Louis’s father Robert. If you want to learn more about the history of Hermès, read this article. There are different versions of the story, one is that on the plane, Birkin’s carry-on bag fell on the ground and Dumas realized the need for a different style of bag to accommodate many items. Another one is that the two had a conversation about bags and Birkin explained to him that she was looking for a functional bag for her travels and lifestyle. Dumas created the first model of the bag: the Birkin 40 made from box calf leather, with two rolled handles, two “feet” and a lock.[11] 

Today, there is not only a waitlist of months or even years for the bag, potential buyers have to build up a purchase history before even being considered eligible to buy a Birkin. Today there are four sizes: 25, 30, 35 and 40 which refers to the length in centimeters along the base of the bag. The Birkin is the most searched for Hermès bag and prices range from USD 10,000 for basic models up until USD 200,000 or even higher for custom models or exotic skins.[12]

6. The Hermès Kelly Bag

And Hermès created another bag named after a celebrity which you probably also know: the Kelly Bag named after Grace Kelly. Also this bag initially had a different name and it took 20 years since the actress first carried the bag until the brand called it the Hermès Kelly.

Princess Grace helping the then called “Sac à Dépêches” to global fame.

The bag was initially created in the 1930s when Robert Dumas, Émile-Maurice’s son-in-law joined the business. He was behind many iconic creations of the house, including the first silk scarves. Initially the Kelly was called “Sac à Dépêches” and was a reinterpretation of the first bag of the house called “Haut à Courroies (HAC)”. It was larger than many bags of the time. This allowed women to carry more things, and, hence, more indepence reflecting the changes in society. Its shape was also different: more geometric, sharp and sleek and the base shape is a trapezium. The flap could be closed with two side straps and a swivel clasp. It became the “base design” for many future Hermès bags, even the Birkin bag references the base-design of the Kelly.[13]

Kelly carried this icon long before it was named after her: for Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”, the stylist Edith Head chose accessories from Hermès and the actress carried her Petit Sac à Courroies” on the set of the movie. After her wedding to Rainier III and becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, she kept carrying the bag and also used it to hide her baby bump during her first pregnancy from the paparazzi. The brand Hermès themselves refers to a picture from 1956 where the princess carried the bag. They did not say which particular picture, I assume it was the one where she hid her baby bump. This picture turned the then relatively unknown bag into a global phenomenon. The princess stayed loyal to the bag and the brand (she also loved the silk scarves as I mentioned in my other video). And this loyalty was even documented by the scratches displayed on one of her bags in an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2010. Only 20 years after Grace Kelly first carried the bag, Hermès officially called it the Hermès Kelly in 1977 and since then it has been one of the most sought-after bag models in the world.[14]

The actress carried this icon long before it was named after her: for Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief”, the stylist Edith Head chose accessories from Hermès and the actress carried her Petit Sac à Courroies” on the set of the movie. After her wedding to Rainier III and becoming Princess Grace of Monaco, she kept carrying the bag and also used it to hide her baby bump during her first pregnancy from the paparazzi. These pictures turned the then relatively unknown bag into a global phenomenon. The princess stayed loyal to the bag and the brand (she also loved the silk scarves as I mentioned in my other video). And this loyalty was even documented by the scratches displayed on one of her bags in an exhition at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in 2010. Only 20 years after Grace Kelly first carried the bag, Hermès officially called it the Hermès Kelly in 1977 and since then it has been one of the most sought-after bag models in the world.[14]

7. Ricky Bag

But it was not always celebrities only who were the inspiration for iconic bags. Ralph Lauren met Ricky Loew-Beer in the 1964 and soon after got married to her. They have been married for almost 60 years and since the beginnings of their relationship Ricky has been Ralph’s muse. In 2005, the company launched the Ricky bag which reflects Ricky’s passion for putting together outfits mixing classic silhouettes, men’s fashion and outdoor sports elements, especially equestrian elements. The most characteristic details is a working lock with the brand name “Ralph Lauren” engraved. The bag comes in many alternatives and has also been turned into smaller accessories such as clutches or wallets.[15]


Footnotes

[1] Harper’s Bazaar 2023a.

[2] British Vogue 2023.

[3] British Vogue 2023, Madame Le Figaro 2023, Vogue Australia 2023.

[4] ibid.

[5] Madame Le Figaro 2023, Vogue Australia 2023, W Magazine 2023.

[6] Harper’s Bazaar 2023b, British Vogue 2023.

[7] Harper’s Bazaar 2023b.

[8] Harper’s Bazaar 2023b, British Vogue 2023.

[9] British Vogue 2023.

[10] British Vogue 2023, Sohteby’s 2023a.

[11] ibid.

[12] ibid.

[13] Harper’s Bazaar 2023 c., Sotheby’s 2023b. 

[14] British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar 2023 c, Hermès 2023.

[15] British Vogue 2023, Luxfy 2023.


Sources

British Vogue, 9 Iconic Bags And The Brilliant Women Who Inspired Them, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Harper’s Bazaar, History of the Hero: Louis Vuitton Speedy Bag, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Harper’s Bazaar, The History of the Hero: The Gucci Jackie 1961, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Harper’s Bazaar, The History of the Hero: The Hermès Kelly, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Hermès, Six Generations of Artisans, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Luxfy, The History of the Ralph Lauren Ricky Bag, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Madame Le Figaro, Le secret des grandes griffes : un sac de lady, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

See Also
Who Was Miss Dior The Brave Life of Catherine Dior Title

Sotheby’s, Everything About the Birkin Hermès Bag, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Sotheby’s, The Ultimate Guide to Hermès Kelly Bags, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

Vogue Australia, The history of the Lady Dior bag named after Princess Diana, last accessed on 30 October 2023.

W Magazine, The Story Behind the Lady Dior Bag, a Princess Diana Favorite, last accessed on 30 October 2023.


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