The Legacy of the Handbag

e first-ever Birkin bag, owned by Jane Birkin, Winston Churchill’s despatch box, and Carrie Bradshaw’s Fendi ‘Baguette,’ Margaret Thatcher’s handbag along with 300 handbags are included in the new exhibition Bags: Inside Out at the V&A. The comprehensive exhibition comes to explore the history of the prized accessory, both atelier and factory, and to examine the fascination attached to it. 

When actress and singer Jane Birkin famously met former executive chairman of Hermès Jean-Louis Dumas on a flight from Paris to London in 1984, and complained about how she could not find a bag suitable to carry her belongings and to fit her style and needs as a young mother, he was inspired to sketch while on the flight; this bag, named after Birkin has become one of the most iconic and celebrated handbags in history and is featured in the show. It was eventually donated by Birkin for an auction to support the fight against AIDS in 1994 and was acquired in 2000 by Catherine B, Hermès and Chanel bags collector and owner of “Les 3 Marches” boutique in Paris.

No less iconic is the Mulberry Bayswater, which was launched in 2003. Designed by Nicholas Knightly, the Bayswater unites the very best of Mulberry’s craft skills and heritage influences. Supermodel Kate Moss was one of the bags first celebrity fans and has carried many different styles and colors over the years – including the example that will feature in the exhibition. The company Mulberry, we learn was founded in 1971, creating luxury lifestyle goods that playfully interpret heritage and celebrate intelligent creativity.

The handbag, this functional and portable accessory, as a representation of changing taste and cultural identity, as a symbol of power, personal statement, and political message, this exhibition comes to offer a new understanding and insight into the function, status, design and making of bags across the world and throughout history.

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Grace Kelly’s departure from Hollywood (Photo By Allan Grant/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images)

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Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer, carries the despatch box on his way to the House of Commons, in London, to present the budget, April 29, 1929. Photo Credit Bettman/Getty

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Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer, carries the despatch box on his way to the House of Commons, in London, to present the budget, April 29, 1929. Photo Credit Bettman/Getty

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Mullberry Alexa and Baywater owned by Kate Moss and Alexa Chung.

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hoto by John Redman/AP/Shutterstock. THATCHER Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher waves to members of the media on returning to No. 10 Downing Street from Buckingham Palace after a visit with Queen Elizabeth II on THATCHER NO. 10 DOWNING, LONDON, United Kingdom.

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Dowry bag or purse (bhujki) of embroidered cotton with silks, Sindh, mid-20th century (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Chatelaine, 1863-85, probably England, cut steel (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, Speedy handbag, Autumn – Winter 2006, Paris (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Fendi Baguette bag worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City, 2000, Italy. Image courtesy of Fendi

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