It’s about time handbags had their own exhibition. Their presence in the modern fashion psyche looms large. They’ve become avatars of social status and belonging. Without bags – and our gotta-have-it obsession with them – the modern fashion industry wouldn’t exist.
The V&A takes a scholarly look at bag mania, tracing the history of the bag from a chatelaines belt slung with miniature purses, via 18th-century sewing bags, Winston Churchill’s red ministerial box, and the glorious travel trunks of the ocean liner age. It takes us all the way through to today’s modern ‘It’ bags, from the Gucci Jackie to the Dior Saddle Bag, Mulberry Alexa and Chanel 2.55.
The star exhibit is Jane Birkin’s original Hermès Birkin, made for her in 1984, after she sat next to Hermès chief executive Jean Louis Dumas on a flight and complained about not being able to find a practical bag that she liked. It’s wonderfully lived in and covered with scratches and glue from the stickers she liked to cover it with.
Bag tourists will be most drawn to the section devoted to celebrity bags – Carrie Bradshaw’s Fendi Baguette (which kickstarted the ‘It’ bag phenomenon of the 1990s) and the black bag Mrs Thatcher used to wield in the 1980s. There’s also a section devoted to how bags are made and a cameo by Mr Bags, the Chinese mega-influencer whose recommendations send sales soaring.
Photography courtesy of V&A. ‘Bags: Inside Out’ is on at the V&A Museum until September 2021. Purchase your tickets here.