Since medieval times, handbags and purses have been a sign of a person’s level of wealth and sophistication. In modern day, one of the most common ways to tell the value of a person’s handbag is through looking at the brand. Somehow, brands became the central voice in saying how much a person paid for their handbag, and what, as a result of their purchase, you can expect from them as a person.
One of the first designer brands of handbags was Louis Vuitton. When travel became more accessible during the mid-1800’s, French designer Vuitton created a flat-top trunk made of iron and a unique, waterproof canvas to differentiate from competitors. These large accessories soon caught on for both travel and everyday outside activities. Vuitton’s son began to inscribe the LV monogram into the designer items in order to show the real ones from the fake. It is the same logo we see for the brand’s handbags and travel accessories today. This way of differentiating between knock-offs and genuine bags was the start of telling a bag’s value by the brand. Louis Vuitton luggage is handmade out of quality materials to this day, which is part of what makes the brand so desired.
Many other brands followed after Louis Vuitton’s example, and began to create quality handbags of their own. Hermes and Gucci are two brands very alike in origin. Hermes started as a high class saddle maker in Paris, but when horses became outdated as a way of travel, the company quickly adapted. In the early 20th century, Emilie-Maurice Hermes introduced the zipper and attached it to common materials used in traveling bags. The first bag used with a zipper was the Bolide bag: large, round, and often made of leather with a zip around closure. The brand achieved national popularity when Grace Kelly posed with her Hermes bag on the cover of Life Magazine. The still extremely popular bag is now named the Kelly bag, after the Princess. The handbag shapes the company created are still modeled by numerous handbags today. Hermes’ ability to turn bulky saddle bags into fashionable, handbags easy for carry is part of what brought, and continues to bring them so much success.
Gucci, like Hermes, started as a saddle and other riding accessories business. The Italian company used leather goods up until the mid-1940’s, when the material was scarce. Gucci made clever innovations with materials such as cotton canvas, hemp, linen and bamboo. The bamboo bag became an icon special to Gucci, like Hermes’ Kelly Bag. It has curvy sides taken from the design of a saddle.
Prada’s beginning is very similar to Louis Vuitton’s. The company started in 1913 by making shoes and travel accessories for men and women. Their first trunk was made of a heavy walrus skin that became obsolete once travel by airplane became more common and lighter materials were required. The business flourished by using wood, tortoise shell, and other waterproof materials in their bags; however, they met a decline in in sales during the 1970s. Miuccia Prada, the granddaughter of business starter Mario Prada, took over the business and was able to apply unique and new styles and materials to the company’s products. She took the once old-fashioned and primarily high status look of Prada and created items that were much more modern and stylish with materials such as silk, velvet, satin and nylon. She helped design and manufacture luxury tote bags and backpacks, and with her fresh ideas, she was able to not only bring Prada back to its original prosperity, but also become a fantastically inspirational designer in the late twentieth century.
Part of what makes handbag brands so popular is their ability to change to what modern times are offering. One thing all of these brands have in common is that they were able to adapt to what people needed. Hermes changed their bags from saddle travel to car travel, Louis Vuitton gained popularity when customers needed to take more things with them on an outing. Gucci used new materials when leather was scarce, and Prada changed their style when their looks became outdated. While good brands must adapt to what the modern world is offering, they must also offer practicality and stylishness. Not many people want to buy a three hundred dollar handbag that will instantly fall apart, and just as many people will want to buy a bag with a style that their friends will make fun of. When people have high-class brand bags, one can assume that they have money, style, and that they want high quality things from life. Real bags show that you respect the brand name, and, as Steele and Borelli, offer in A Lexicon of Style, carrying a knock-off bag can imply that you, too, are a fake. A brand becomes famous based not only on its notoriety, but also on the quality of what it makes, and the amount of people who respect its look.
Written by Melissa