Designer Handbags: Back to ba(g)sic

The timeless aesthetic of the new designer handbags.

It all started with Céline. To be precise, it all started with Phoebe Philo’s first collection in 2010, when the now-famous Classic Box made its appearance. This was a bag seemingly free from pretentious innovation, inspired by an idea so fundamental as to have been forgotten: perfection. With its modest size – just big enough for mobile, wallet, house keys and makeup case – ideal weight, luxurious leather and perfect symmetry, the Classic Box seemed all set to simply vanish in the chaotic world of the It Bag, swallowed up in a vortex of logos in massive letters.

But – and we should have got used to it by now – the world of fashion is unpredictable, and the little Cèline brand won its moment in the sun. The Classic Box became the forerunner of a new generation of simple, classic, timeless and luxury designer  handbags that have pushed unnecessary frills and extravagant details off the map. In the age of economic austerity, the compulsive acquisition of the season’s bag – flaunted for a few months and then carelessly abandoned at the back of the wardrobe – has come to seem an anachronism, not to say bad taste. Fashion editors, models and socialites have therefore fished out from their unlimited wardrobes those timeless classics that are often jealously guarded generation after generation. Armies of legendary Chanel 2.55s and Hermès Birkins have invaded the fashion weeks, bringing a more elegant, more restrained idea of style back into vogue.

Fashion designers have immediately set to work developing the new idea of luxury, and as a result the designer handbags has gone back to being an object to desire for reasons other than the exorbitance of the price and the flashiness of the brand. Quality, luxury materials, hand finishing, and – most of all – an opportune and “immortal” versatility are now what counts. Today the minimal, retro allure of the Classic Box is no longer the exception, and shop windows are full of what have now become known as “Anti-It Bags”.

So the rapid growth of the star brands of recent seasons – historic names like Valextra, Delvaux and Mark Cross – comes as no surprise. The last two were founded a couple of centuries ago and until recently were labelled, perhaps slightly unkindly, as “granny” brands. The youngest, feistiest trendsetters as well have surrendered to the trend for “new classics”, which appear with ever greater regularity in street style shots, perhaps completing extravagant, imaginative outfits.

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