Bags of his­tory

Lisa Arm­strong cel­e­brates the re­vival of a 1930s la­bel

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YOU MIGHT THINK it im­pos­si­ble to cre­ate some­thing fresh in these bag-dense times. Yet Bienen-davis has done just that – by go­ing back to its past.

Imag­ine 1931, when Bienen-davis launched: the depths of re­ces­sion, hence ma­jor up­lift­ing glam­our re­quired. Bienen-davis stepped up with fault­less crafts­man­ship, ex­trav­a­gant ma­te­ri­als and in­no­va­tive designs, some of which are in the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art.

As years passed, wealthy Amer­i­cans trav­elled more, dis­cov­er­ing ri­val sources of lux­ury such as Her­mès and Gucci. Bienen-davis di­ver­si­fied. By the 1970s it was mak­ing bags for Hal­ston, favoured by An­jel­ica Hus­ton, Jerry Hall and Mar­gaux Hem­ing­way. But, as the disco decade closed, it flick­ered out.

En­ter, al­most 40 years later, Richard Bienen, a fourth-gen­er­a­tion scion who helped re­launch Mark Cross, an­other Amer­i­can leather-goods house with a ro­man­tic back­story. That ex­pe­ri­ence con­vinced Bienen that a rel­a­tively small her­itage la­bel had some­thing to say in a mar­ket dom­i­nated by Go­liaths. He took a lot of in­spi­ra­tion from his mother, Pat Mori, a 1950s model with an al­most heroic com­mit­ment to par­ty­ing.

‘She was a high roller,’ says Beinen, who re­mem­bers her com­ing home af­ter all-nighters at Stu­dio 54 and cook­ing the fam­ily break­fast. ‘She was glam­orous, but she knew how to work.’

Mori’s whole­hearted com­mit­ment to fab­u­lous­ness is re­flected in Bienen­davis’s re­fined deca­dence. These friv­o­lous-look­ing, wholly orig­i­nal bags turn out to be sur­pris­ingly prac­ti­cal.

The PM, a foldover with a gold frame, is named for Mori, and not merely a time of day. The satin 4AM has the frame of the PM, plus a top-han­dle chain. The Régine is a rec­tan­gu­lar frame with a han­dle, in­side which can be slot­ted a se­lec­tion of elab­o­rate metal minaudières that can also be car­ried on their own. The Kit is an ul­tra-glossy bucket with in­ter­change­able silky pouches. These too can be used alone.

‘It’s my job to en­sure these bags work day and night for the modern woman,’ says Mered­ith Ger­man, a for­mer de­signer at Marc Ja­cobs, who, with her hus­band W Ross, com­pletes the trio be­hind this new-but-old house. They aren’t quite the whole story, though.

‘We couldn’t have got this off the ground with­out the orig­i­nal fac­tory in Italy that my fam­ily worked with in the 1930s,’ says Bienen. ‘There’s even one man still there who worked on the bags in the 1970s.’ From top: Kit, £1,628, Régine, £2,440, and 4AM, £1,050, all Beinen-davis, match­es­fash­ion.com.

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