Few things can gain a cult-like following better than a bag. Far from a humble accessory just used to hold your purse and keys, over the decades it’s become a status symbol and a sign of conspicuous consumption.
An 'It' bag isn’t something anyone can have – they tend to be expensive and are highly covetable. Sure, a lot of them are replicated via cheap knock-offs, but it’s all in an attempt to at least look like the real deal.
Most of these bags gain their status by withstanding the test of time, and many are helped along the way by a famous face. Most have aged well, some really haven’t – and we’re still figuring out what the It bags of today are. So what makes an It bag, an It bag?
The cult of celebrity…
So many It bags are named after women – and not just any women, but the most stylish and fashionable celebrities out there. Being attached to a style icon helped elevate them from the everyday, into something so much more: An It bag.
Most of these bags come with an accompanying legend, which only adds to their mythic status. Take the Hermès Kelly – the bag had already been created by the French fashion house, but was renamed after movie star and later princess, Grace Kelly reportedly used it to shield her pregnancy from photographers. It helped establish the tote as more than the average designer purse.
There’s also the Birkin – one of the most iconic and enduring It bags. In 1983 actor and singer Jane Birkin sat next to Hermès chief executive Jean-Louis Dumas on an airplane and complained she couldn’t find a good-sized leather bag she liked. As a result, Dumas created the Birkin, and the rest is history.
There are also modern examples of fashionable figures inspiring cult bags. Take the Mulberry Alexa, which is named after TV presenter, style icon and now fashion designer Alexa Chung. It debuted in 2009, and swiftly became the must-have accessory for everyone wanting a piece of Chung’s effortless cool.
Capturing a zeitgeist…
Unlike the Birkin and the Kelly, not all It bags are quite so enduring. Fashion trends change, and there are definitely some more questionable accessories we once lusted over, which just seem a bit cringe today.
Take the tiny Louis Vuitton over-the-shoulder bag. It was white, emblazoned with the LV print in multi-colours – we probably should have realised it wasn’t going to be in everlasting use.
However, there’s no denying it was an It bag at the time. It was the one thing you wanted to get for Christmas, particularly as Regina George and Cady Heron were seen sporting them in Mean Girls.
Even though there are some blips, there are very few past It bags that make us shudder – which shows what deftness and class it takes to reach this hallowed status.
As designer accessories, they cost an awful lot of money, so you want to be sure it’s something you could carry and use forever. The Chanel quilted bag is the perfect example and is seen over the shoulder of celebrities as regularly today as it was decades ago.
The Mulberry Bayswater, too, is iconic; recognisable, understated and timeless. It bags tend to be as fashionable to use now, as they were when first launched. And just look how gracefully they age.
The It bags of today…
Accessory trends come and go – currently, everyone seems to have a bum bag slung across their chest, which would have been a bit of a joke a few years ago. However, these don’t count as It bags – they’re just passing fads, and likely the bum bag craze will soon die off.
The It bags of today broadly fall into two categories. First, quirky, unusual bags that get plastered all over Instagram. For instance, a new contender in this category debuted at Louis Vuitton’s recent Paris Fashion Week show – a tiny bag in the label’s trademark dark brown leather and LV print, made to look like a tiny spaceship or spinning top. It’s classic Louis Vuitton fare, but in a curious, new bag shape, that won’t necessarily fall out of style.
Second, budding It bags that play with nostalgia – which is big business in the fashion industry. Brands are tapping into this by reviving some of our favourite styles from back in the day, like the Dior saddle bag. It was first created in 1999 and was seen in the hands of every major celeb you could think of, but as with many things from the early Noughties, it soon faded – that is, until Dior reissued the bag in 2018.
You can tell the saddle bag has reached true It bag status because it has managed to withstand the test of time, and found favour with a broad range of people. This isn’t the kind of accessory reserved for just one age or type of person, but has recently been spotted worn by everyone from Adwoa Aboah and Jessica Alba to Kourtney Kardashian and Miranda Kerr.
Another example of a retro bag making a triumphant comeback is the Fendi Baguette. This bag debuted in 1997, made famous by Sarah Jessica Parker’s character in Sex And The City – she wore it in a variety of styles, all miniature, impractical and totally glamorous. Silvia Venturini designed the bag, and in 2012 told the Financial Times: "It’s a bag that follows your personality; always the same, but always different."
Earlier this year the Baguette made a comeback and has proven just as popular – again, with a little help from SJP.
Who knows, maybe the tiny Louis Vuitton multi-coloured handbag will make a comeback soon too? If it’s all over your Instagram feed and worn by a diverse range of people, it’s well on its way to becoming an It bag.