I noticed an online promotion recently, cheerfully and very hopefully exclaiming, “This is the one handbag bag you need this season”.
It was a cute circular bamboo bag that I remember from the 70s but, on the whole, it was an extraordinary claim.
The absolute must-have handbag, the “it bag”, the one bag that will change your life and pronounce to the world that you are a true fashion insider hasn’t really been a thing for years now.
Of course there are, and will always be, classic bags such as the Hermes Kelly and Birkin bags, the quilted, chain-handled Chanel 2.55, the woven Bottega Veneta bag, or the Longchamp tote.
These are beautiful, functional examples of timeless design that defy trends. And there will always be new, pretty, seasonal handbags to update your look.
But no one really believes that a handbag is the key to a woman’s style credibility.
For a while, staring in the early 2000s, those of us deep in the fashion world all fell for the idea that there was one bag, an “it bag” that defined a season.
It started with the release of the Prada bowling bag. Then we were told it was Gucci’s Jackie O bag, refreshed by the house’s then-designer Tom Ford. I bought three, stupid me, in black, in brown and in a print.
Then, whoosh, it was the Fendi Baguette bag, a smallish, embellished bag that came in endless complex variations from satin to ostrich, beaded, embroidered and enamelled, a bag that completely changed the Fendi fortunes.
Naturally, every fashion house wanted to create an “it bag” for financial reasons. The pressure was on. There were waiting lists.
They cost at least a month’s wages and became increasingly ridiculous, designed to impress rather than deliver any tiny trace of practicality.
One year it was Mulberry, who released a thick, rather unimpressive leather bag with multiple pockets, that weighed a ton before you put anything in it.
The YSL Mogambo bag, the handle of which was a “naturally shed horn” (hmmm) that dug painfully into your shoulder. There was the Chloe lock bag, a steal at more than $2000, that sported a huge ugly padlock as decoration that must have weighed three kilos on its own and seemed specifically designed to send you to the chiropractor.
Then the Balenciaga lariat bag arrived. This clunky oversized leather bag with its dangling leather cords was snapped up in bulk by every celebrity you never wanted to emulate, from Lindsay Lohan to Paris Hilton.
I tired of the “it bag” philosophy early, as my innate frugality, and pesky common sense made me question why anyone needed to replace a perfectly good handbag every six months (shoes I could rationalise).
The women I thought were chic didn’t seem to carry flashy handbags at all, just stylish totes or practical shoppers. I now carry everything I need in a small, soft leather purse with a zip from Mon Purse (keys, glasses, phone, credit card, lipstick and compact).
I can sit it on the table at lunch, take it out to dinner, and pop it inside a bigger tote when I’m shopping. At lunch with two fashion editors last week, I noticed not one of us was carrying a handbag. It’s very liberating.
Maybe the real it bag is no bag at all.