Alessandro Michele in collaboration with Trevor Andrew Gucci Tote Bag Autumn – Winter 2016, Italy
For the past two decades, fashion has been all about the bag – and the V&A's new exhibition, Bags: Inside Out, explores how the beloved accessory is much more than a functional object. Instead, it is a statement full of symbolic meanings, an object in which we conceal our most treasured belongings but which we also use to project ourselves into the world.
Bags, at first, were simply designed to hold our belongings. And from a 19th-century chatelaine (a waist-hung appendage holding multiple precious objects) to a Louis Vuitton trunk that belonged to socialite Emilie Grigsby, some gorgeous early creations are on display in this exhibition.
It is precisely the design and materials of those bags – originally reflecting their intended purpose as practical objects – that morphed into cultural artefacts that gave bags their distinctive symbolic value today. The Vuitton coated canvas was created to make lighter, more resistant trunks, whilst the Hermès Mallette handbag with its distinctive locks was made to protect precious belongings.
Today, whether through celebrity association or the way they are regarded by different cultures around the globe, bags have become universal emblems of identity and desire.
'Lait de Coco' evening bag, Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel AW Ready to Wear 2014
Walking around the exhibition, some of us may be delighted to discover the first 'Birkin' bag ever made and loved by Jane Birkin herself – it shows residue of adhesive from the stickers she liked to apply. Others may get emotional at the sight of the global it bag, the Fendi 'Baguette' worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City. Others may be mesmerised by the refinement of tiny clutch bags made of silk, platinum or diamonds.
Michele Pred ‘My Body My Business’ handbag 2019
Bags are an accessible way to own and be associated with the luxury and allure of a specific label. While their making is still complex, factory production is now replacing craftsmanship. The exhibition ends by looking at a sustainable future for an industry that represents a crucial revenue stream for some of the world’s most famous fashion houses.
The V&A is finally giving handbags the fashion recognition they deserve.
|What||Bags: Inside Out, V&A review|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
|Website||Click here for more information|