What makes an iconic handbag?

The construction

This twist will often be construction. A dramatic and striking hard or soft shell. Construction and the use of mixing hard and soft can really be explored when creating handbags due to the nature of the materials’ use that really allows us to think in 3D and achieve a wonderfully engineered work. Construction needs to understand the core consumers’ needs and revolve around that. Some hard exterior bags such as Céline’s luggage tote or Givenchy’s dramatic Antigona bag combines in a unique and harmonious way beauty with functionality. Designers like Rick Owens are masters in creating handbags with soft shell made from butter-like luxurious materials with a rough attitude, design and lines. Bags of course don’t need to be functional to be iconic; we can look at some of the more outrages clutches such as Alexander McQueen’s knuckle box clutch, which is we fell in love with because of its fashion statement rather than practicality.

The muse

Another special detail that a bag can be remembered for is its muse. One of, if not the most, iconic bags of all time is the ‘Sac à dépêches’ by Hermès that was designed in the 1930’s but got renamed in the 1950’s as the Kelly bag after Grace Kelly simply because she fell in love with it when she used it as a prop in the Alfred Hitchcock movie To Catch a Thief. More recently we can see big labels name bags after muses such as the ‘Stam’ bag by Marc Jacobs, named after muse Jessica Stam, Alexa bag and Del Rey bags named after muses Alexa Chung and singer Lana Del Ray. I named two of my favourite bags after Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, which were both present in my mind as I was developing the bags.

The balance

An iconic bag is one that empowers the wearer and that most designers will aspire to create. If I had to think of one word that captures the essence of a great design it will have to be balance. Looking at handbags that became iconic over the years, all of them have this undeniable balance that made them stand out. A balance within their silhouette, cut, lines, materials, volume, colours and textures while balancing functionality and beauty. I believe balance is what we, as designers need to have in mind constantly as we strive to create a great, iconic product. It is the greatest challenge for a designer to make all the components in one piece come together and create a harmony. A harmony that people will understand and relate to. This harmony is rare but when it is brought to life it has a special twist that makes people notice it. This twist or extra ingredient can be as simple as a quirky stitch, cut-out or pop of colour; a small detail that is unique enough to make the bag stand out but is restrained enough to keep the bag chic, luxurious and that speaks to different types of women.

The greatest lesson I learned as a designer is that it is easier to overcomplicate a design with lots of details than to create a perfectly balanced one. Once a strong, often simple, body is achieved it is obvious to a good designer that it doesn’t need anything else to stand out. This is it-the promised land of all design, beauty in its pure form. This is what all iconic bags have in common in my opinion. Training the design eye, learning how to reach a good balance, edit and re-edit until the design reaches that nirvana-like point of balance (and to recognise when it does) can take a lifetime to master. I still think we should try…

What makes an iconic handbag? Is it the material, silhouette and construction that makes a bag stand out? Or the muse that inspires its creation? Or is it the perfect balance of everything? Handbag designer and tutor on the Designer Bags and Handbags

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