Get to know the history of the handbag and what style you’ll be toting in the near future
When does a bag become more than a means to carry our stuff? MICHAEL CHEUNG traces the history of the handbag and identifies the newest sculptural versions that are worthy of your investment
WHILE MODERN-DAY designers are constantly coming up with new forms, shapes, patterns, materials and colour combinations in the quest to create the next must-have, the handbag itself had humble beginnings. As documented on papyruses and wall carvings in ancient Egypt, the first bags created were conceived for the simple purpose of transporting heavy items.
With the introduction of pockets to men’s clothing in 1670, bags quickly shifted to the domain of women’s fashion. Ownership of a handbag helped to promote a woman’s independence, allowing her to carry her own money and possessions rather than entrusting them to a man.
During the Roaring Twenties, more and more women began working outside the home. Fashion had to reflect the times and large handbags, such as the Boulevard bag and strapped suitcases, began to cater to the career woman on the go. Then came the 1960s and 1970s, the age of youth. The post-war generation hungered for self- expression and originality, inspiring designers to break the rules surrounding what constituted appropriate dressing. Clothing and bags were produced in all kinds of colours and silhouettes and made in materials like PVC, wicker and mixed fabrics to reflect the carefree attitude of the times.
Fast-forward to today and there are more than 40 bag types to fit every taste and mood. Bags are celebrated for their form rather than their function, as many contemporary women will select a bag that complements her ensemble over anything else.
For the past few years, the attention was on micro-mini and doll-sized bags, with Jacquemus, Valentino and Givenchy centring their collections around the trend. Sculptural bags also began making a strong comeback. The resurgence started on the runways in 2019, when designers showcased handbags that emphasised structure and innovative forms rather than scale. Several standouts included Altuzarra’s reimagined circular shape and Loewe’s architectural open bucket design.
So, where is the trend heading next? Besides taking note of the geometric art deco shapes prevalent in the 1930s, luxury brands are finding inspiration in legendary designer Elsa Schiaparelli’s avant-garde style. The future of handbags, it seems, focuses on form, texture and negative space. These sculptural pieces can even do double duty as a modernist work of art in your living space.
Wei Hung Chen, creative director of New York-based accessories label and 2019 ANDAM Fashion Award winner Khaore, believes that sculptural bags are indeed the way to go. “I think these irregular silhouettes will have a place to stay in the foreseeable future. The current time we are in has allowed and enhanced this sculptural format in the bag market,” he says. “With self- quarantine becoming a norm in our lives, the idea of a bag functioning as a tool to carry your items seems outdated because no one is leaving the house.”