Carried by celebrities, coveted by the masses and a key source of revenue for the world’s high fashion labels, step inside the intriguing world of the ‘It’ bag...
The phenomenon of the ‘It’ bag has gone through many iterations. Beginning, in essence, with the coveting of designs toted by elite society women of the 40s and 50s, such as Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly, before evolving into a logo-driven force firmly associated with the WAGs of the Nineties and Noughties, it is now a label that can be applied to everything from auction-worthy investment pieces to the latest seasonal debuts.
One thing that has always remained true, however, is that the ‘It’ bag is a huge economic driving force for high fashion houses – transforming the role of the designer into that of a creative director able to turn their hand to accessories as easily as ready-to-wear. Just like perfume, shoes or sunglasses, the ‘It’ bag represents something anyone can buy in to. Don’t fit the restrictive sizing of designer clothes? A handbag always fits. A male fashion-lover enamoured with the aesthetic of a female-centric brand? You can always carry a handbag. Don’t have the means to drop thousands on trend-led new pieces every season? Save up and buy yourself a handbag you can use for years to come.
This alone, however, does not fully explain the appeal of the ‘It’ bag. Your choice of brand and design, of course, marks you out as a member of a specific club and as having a certain level of taste but, for many, much of an ‘It’ bag's covet-ability lies in scarcity. It is, for example, legendarily difficult to get your hands on an Hermès Kelly and many new contenders for the ‘It' bag crown, such as the Bottega Veneta Pouch which debuted in 2019, make their name by appearing on the arm of every stylish celebrity and fashion influencer yet being entirely impossible for the everyday consumer to get their hands on.
This scarcity also means that ‘It’ bags make surprisingly good investments. Classic bags, such as a monogrammed Louis Vuitton Pochette, quilted Chanel 2.55 or a Gucci Bamboo bag, are well known to hold their value at auction or on resale sites, with limited editions and pieces in hard-to-find precious materials or colourways often fetching significantly more than their original selling price. In 2018 a vintage Hermès Birkin crafted from crocodile skin with an 18 karat gold diamond-encrusted lock sold for an astounding £162,500 and, while there is some debate about the most expensive bag ever sold at auction, there have been a handful that have reached in excess of £200,000.
And while ‘It’ bags are not immune from the influence of fashion trends – just compare the logo-covered bags of decades past to the new generation of designs that conform to the modern runway’s greater penchant for minimalism – a good ‘It’ bag must have a certain element of timelessness. Silhouette is key. ‘It’ bags are, essentially, collectibles so you must be able to render them in different colours and materials while retaining the essence of the original design. Ideally they also work as a blank canvas for artist collaborations and bespoke client requests. Finally, there must be a specific element that immediately marks out the bag as authentic and special: the Hermès lock or the Chanel ‘Double C’ clasp, for example.
So what are history’s greatest ‘It’ bags – and do you have any chance of getting your hands on one? Read on for our brand-by-brand break down…
Louis Vuitton Speedy