The Daily Telegraph - The Telegraph Magazine

Bags of history

Lisa Armstrong celebrates the revival of a 1930s label


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, matchesfas­

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