BOOK REVIEW - “HANDBAGS: A LOVE STORY. LEGENDARY DESIGNS FROM AZZEDINE ALAÏA TO YVES SAINT LAURENT” BY MONICA BOTKIER
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it is the perfect timing to reflect on our love for handbags. As a matter of fact, Monica Botkier, an American designer of handbags recently has published a beautiful book with Harper Collins that we all can relate to, called “Handbags: A Love Story”. If you love handbags as much as we do, you should definitely read it!
Being the most recent publication on handbags to this day, the book is very relevant and rich in both stories behind iconic bags, designer fashion houses as well as archival and contemporary visuals. As the author mentions, this book is not a history of handbags, but an exploration of a bag as a “modern phenomenon, that exists in the swirl of desire, style, and aspiration as well as celebrity, marketing, and social-media cachet”.
The book is divided into chapters by designer name in alphabetical order, starting with Alexander McQueen and wrapping up with Yves Saint Laurent. Each chapter discusses the stories and origins behind the most recognizable It bags, maximum of four per a designer. However, today designers don’t like the term “It bag” anymore and call it “a kiss of death”, because once a bag gets its “It” status and oversaturates the market, it goes out of fashion.
Every handbag that you see on the street tells a story and has been a “fashion and cultural happening”. It is seen as a marker of not only a social status and taste, but also, as Botkier calls it, “a tribe”. Whether you are an Alexander Wang girl or a Chanel girl, if you are part of an understated luxury by Céline or a modern expressive maximalist by Gucci, every bag conveys a layer of messages about a woman who carries it.
Botkier, just like any handbag lover and enthusiast, is on the first-name basis with bags - Alexa (by Mulberry), Boy (Chanel), Drew (Chloé), Lariat (Balenciaga) or St. Louis (Goyard). Every bag has a fascinating history behind it or a gorgeous woman (or man) that it’s been named after. Notably, Grace Kelly and Princess Diana had an enormous influence on the handbag market. Obviously, timeless Kelly by Hermès and Mark Cross’ Grace Box bear the name of the Hollywood actress turned Princess. Princess Diana’s fashion legacy is marked with Lady Dior purse and D from Tod’s.
The book also features interviews with fashion experts and insiders about their love for handbags. It explores the role of a handbag in pop culture and films.
Here are 15 fascinating fun facts that we have learnt after reading this book:
1. A 2016 report noted that women between ages of 18 and 45 own an average of thirteen different bags from seven different brands.
2. Mary Kate Olsen was the first celebrity spotted carrying Alexander Wang’s Rocco bag, which she carried on a crooked arm so that the golden studs at the bottom were seen on paparazzi photos. The bag became a sensation even before it hit the stores.
3. Anya Hindmarch’s “I’m not a plastic bag” canvas tote caused a stampede in Taiwan, sending thirty people to the hospital. In New York, people were waiting overnight outside Whole Foods to get one, while in London eighty thousand people lined up at Sainsbury’s supermarket to purchase it for mere 5 pounds. The bag caused a resonance not by its design or craftsmanship, but the eco-conscious message.
4. Balenciaga’s Lariat handbag was first rejected by the executives of the company until a year later when Kate Moss saw a prototype in the atelier and liked it. Nicolas Ghesquiere, Balenciaga’s creative director at that time, produced and sent 25 copies to his editor friends from major publications. Their street style photographs went around the world, created desire and heated up a huge demand - thus the bag’s price skyrocketed. It was a moment in time when street style had just emerged as a vital part of Fashion Week and the fashion industry in general.
5. Andy Warhol filmed a short promotional film for Bottega Veneta in 1980. He also lived by their store in New York and loved doing his Christmas shopping there.
6. The Boy bag of Chanel was named after Mademoiselle Chanel’s great love, an elegant polo player “Boy” Capel, who died in a car accident in 1919.
7. Princess Diana received Dior’s “Chouchou” bag as a gift from Bernadette Chirac, French First Lady, in 1995. Lady Di loved the purse so much, that, as a legend goes, she ordered one in every colour and was seen carrying it everywhere. The sales went crazy after her photographs were published in British magazines! This bag is now called Lady Dior and is the most iconic Dior’s bag.
8. In the past, Goyard was known for its original custom creations, such as a portable desk for Arthur Conan Doyle and a cheetah carrier for Josephine Baker. In 2006, Goyard’s St. Louis tote was so popular that it occupied an entire spread of Bill Cunningham’s “On the Street” section of the New York Times. However, up until today the brand does not participate in any kind of marketing or e-commerce and is chosen by people “in the know”.
9. By early 2017, there were 90 versions of Gucci’s Dionysus available, not including custom-created through the “do-it-yourself” service program, which allows clients to pick their own patches, hardware, embroidery and monogram. This is currently the most desired purse and the latest It bag.
10. Madrid-based company Loewe was named an official supplier for the royal family of Spain in 1905.
11. More than 31 million of nylon Le Pliage totes by Longchamps, inspired by the Japanese art of origami, in more that 150 colours have been sold worldwide. No wonder you can see them EVERYWHERE!!!
12. Louis Vuitton’s Speedy was created by the request of Audrey Hepburn in the 1960s. It was a smaller version of the Keepall travel bag, but would match the petite frame of the actress. The name also referred to the new fast-paced life of modern times.
13. The first collaboration of Marc Jacobs with Stephen Sprouse for Louis Vuitton, with graffiti all over the bags, was supposed to be only a runway and editorial collection. It ended up being a commercial blockbuster. Jacobs noted an interesting fact - up to this day souvenir tote bags, that say a location, like “Paris France” or “Sydney Australia” are written in a style, that’s imitating Sprouses’ works for Louis Vuitton in 2001.
14. Stella McCartney's Falabella bag entered the market at the perfect timing - when notions of “sustainability” and “eco-consciousness” gained worldwide attention as a big issue. The designer, who is a famous vegan and eco-activist, uses cruelty-free materials and has a conscious approach to her design and manufacturing. She even convinced Kering, a luxury conglomerate that owns shares of her brand, to publish environmental profit-and-loss statements.
15. In 2010 Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccoli launched Rockstud collection for Valentino. Apparently, earlier in their career they have been designing handbags for 10 years at Fendi and were part of the team behind an iconic the Baguette.
Apart from these 15 facts, there is still a lot to read! “Handbags: A Love Story” is extremely fascinating and we highly recommend it to any handbag and pop culture enthusiast. It would also make a great gift for your loved one for Valentine’s Day. This book is a great addition to the library or to the coffee table because it is as interesting to read, as it is nice to flip through thanks to beautiful images of advertisements, archival celebrity photographs and Vogue magazine features.
Hope you'll enjoy the read as much as we did!