10 of the Most Iconic Handbags of All Time
From royalty like Grace Kelly or Princess Diana to Hollywood stars like Audrey Hepburn or Jane Birkin, a handbag’s journey to iconic notoriety usually starts on the arm of an influential leading woman. The popularity of collecting luxury handbags has gained momentum over the last few decades. Handbags aren’t just for fun and fashion anymore, many have become a form of investment. Status symbols like the Hermès Birkin increase in value by 14.2% on average annually and there is less fluctuation in their value when compared to gold or S&P stocks. Whether you are investing in luxury handbags to turn heads or turn a buck, look no further than our list of the most iconic handbags of all time to inspire your next purchase.
Formerly known as the Sac à dépêches, the Hermès Kelly was designed in the 1930s by Robert Dumas. The structured trapezoid shaped bag was unlike the flat envelope styles popular at the time and it was considered a travel bag rather than a handbag. In 1954 Grace Kelly was introduced to the bag when she starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief” and she fell in love with the elegance and simplicity. After Grace Kelly became Princess of Monaco in 1956 she used a Sac à dépêches to hide her first pregnancy from paparazzi and the bag instantly became known as the “Kelly” bag, although it was not officially renamed until 1977.
Originally named the ‘Fifties Constance’ the now iconic ‘Jackie’ bag was renamed in the 1960s after First Lady Jackie Kennedy was seen carrying the style often. Whether it is made from leather or from Gucci’s GG canvas this hobo bag is instantly recognizable for it’s curved half-moon shape and piston hardware. The Jackie has been a beloved handbag for decades, but popularity rose in 2021 when Gucci’s creative director, Alessandro Michele, introduced the Jackie 1961 collection. The Jackie 1961 bag is a revival of the iconic shape and piston hardware of the original, but features a sleek contemporary twist on the classic silhouette.
Founded in 1909 by Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel, the House of Chanel has given us many revolutionary designs that feature utility, but a standout that everyone can be thankful for is the introduction of a handbag with shoulder straps. Named after the date of its creation, February of 1955, the Chanel 2.55 bag is one of the most recognizable handbags of all time. It’s hard to believe that before the release of the 2.55, handbags required holding and no bag had ever given women the freedom of being hands-free. The timeless leather flap bag with chain strap immediately became a status symbol of the 1950s and remains a coveted accessory more than 70 years later.
The most sought-after handbag of all time has to be the Hermès Birkin. Designed by Jean-Louis Dumas in 1983 after fate sat him next to actress Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London. She complained about the trouble of finding a leather weekender bag she liked and the rest, as they say, is history. Though Hermès refuses to release a number, it is estimated that around 12,000 Birkin bags are produced each year and Hermès limits the sale of those bags to their most elite clientele, meaning you will be waiting years and be purchasing a multitude of Hermès goods before you are able to purchase one of these elusive icons. The high demand and low supply for the Birkin have created a lucrative second-hand market, making them a great investment.
Louis Vuitton Speedy
Louis Vuitton is one of the oldest luxury brands, beginning their mastery of trunks and luggage in 1854. With the rapid growth of air transportation in the 1930s Louis Vuitton introduced their first bag, the “Keepall” followed by it’s smaller counterpart the “Speedy”. Audrey Hepburn requested a smaller version of Louis Vuitton’s Speedy 30 that she could have for everyday use and the Speedy 25 was born in 1959. It had a slow rise to the top, but the Speedy line is a defining style for the brand to this day.
Designed by Silvia Fendi in 1997, some consider the Fendi Baguette to be the first “It” bag of all time. Though the fashion house saw the design as too small, too colorful and not functional it became the first bag to ever have a waitlist at every major department store after Carrie Bradshaw, played by Sarah Jessica Parker, was robbed on HBO’s “Sex and the City” and iconically told the theif “It’s a baguette” when he asked her to hand over her bag. Available in over 100,000 colors, patterns or materials, the Fendi baguette can match the style of anyone. Whether you opt for a classic Zucca pattern or an opulent beaded design the Fendi Baguette is a modern classic.
Prada Nylon Backpack
One of the only bags on our list that paved it’s own way is Prada’s Nylon backpack. When Muiccia Prada took over the brand in 1977, Prada was known for their luxury leather goods, luggage and trunks; like many fashion houses of the time. Seeing the current designs as boring and outdated, Muiccia searched for a contrast and introduced nylon as a primary material in Prada’s line up. A rather uncommon material in 1977, nylon has now become synonymous with the brand. In 1984 when the backpack was released it was viewed as an “anti-luxury” bag, attracting young consumers and reviving the dated brand. By the 1990s Prada nylon bags were the perfect match for the minimalist fashion trends of the time and the backpack continues to be one of the world’s favorite understated luxury accessories.
One of Dior’s most popular bags was originally a bespoke design gifted to Princess Diana from Bernadette Chirac, the First Lady of France, back in 1995. The bag’s elegant style is thanks to Dior’s signature Cannage motif, while the charms dangling from the handle offer a playful twist to the classic shape. Diana loved it so much that she carried it everywhere, and fashionistas around the world took notice. As a result, Dior renamed the bag in her honor.
The now iconic bag that almost never was. Designed by Nicolas Ghesquiere in 2001, the fashion house originally only approved the release of twenty-five samples to fashion editors and models. It’s hard to believe this cult favorite had such a rough start, but it was competing with logo covered status bags of the aughts like the Louis Vuitton Speedy and the Dior Saddle bag. The savior of the world’s toughest “It” bag was none-other than runway royalty Kate Moss. Once she requested one after watching a Balenciaga runway show, the fashion house had second thoughts about how successful the bag could be. Thank goodness Balenciaga began producing the bag for retail, when Moss announced it as her favorite the frenzy was born. From the perfectly placed studs to the leather fringe, the details of the City Bag make it stand out from the “It” bags of the past and define it as an instantly recognizable icon to this day.
Celine Luggage Tote
One of the newest “It” bags to come along is the Céline Luggage Tote. First released in 2010 the large structured tote was not widely popular when it originally hit boutique shelves. A re-release a few years later caught the attention of celebrities including the Olsen Twins. Once the fashion forward duo were seen carrying the bag it became so popular the wait to get your hands on one was as much as six months. Céline has since created four additional sizes and released the bag in an array of materials and colors.