Few design houses have amassed a purse archive as storied as Chanel’s. In the creator’s era-defining creations to Karl Lagerfeld’s after novelties, the list of iconic Chanel bags is unusually lengthy. Here, Vogue take a look at the most celebrated Chanel totes, clutches and cross-body luggage in purse background…
When Gabrielle Chanel created the 2.55 in February 1955, (thus the title,) scandal ensued. It was the very first bag for girls to come with a shoulder strap — a detail which provided freedom from the impractical constraints of the clutch. It had been considered rebellious, even uncouth, but girls were enraptured the viability it afforded. Chanel herself loved the way she could slip both hands into the pockets of her coat, striking a free, determined pose. The 2.55 was a disclosure, and immediately became a house icon.
As the first bag created with women’s regular needs in mind, the 2.55 was packaged with practical information. The chain strap (inspired by the very small chains Chanel would use to weight the hems of her suit coats ) could be doubled up and swung from one shoulder, while the hidden zip pocket was ideal for covertly storing love letters (as the designer, in the middle of a romantic affair, reportedly did.) The back slip pocket has been allowed for cash, along with the wheels perfectly shaped for a lipstick.
The 2.55 also marked the introduction of Both lasting Chanel signatures. The deep burgundy hue of the interior was inspired by the designer’s youth uniform in the Aubazine Abbey orphanage, and the diamond-stitched quilting was borrowed in the jackets worn by guys at the races.
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Also referred to as the 11.12, Karl Lagerfeld’s 1980s remix of their original 2.55 remained loyal to the original layout while incorporating a touch of this age’s signature decadence.
A small number of gaps put these two bags aside. From the Classic, the chain strap is interlaced with black leather, and the original’Mademoiselle’ twist-lock grip was replaced with an instantly recognisable CC lock — a calling card which encapsulated the logomania decadence of the age.
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Karl Lagerfeld’s 2011 launch was a tribute to Chanel’s first love, Boy Capel. The more rigorous structure riffs about the boxy silhouette of a hunter’s cartridge bag, while the more demanding, chunkier series and oxidised metal hardware nod into the androgynous trends of their house’s original collections.
An effort fronted by Alice Dellal solidified the Boy’s rock’n’ roll character, and this rebellious member of the Chanel family has become a symbol of the house’s androgynous heritage. Each season sees the Boy recreated in various guises and a slew of sizes, from micro minis into enviably roomy silhouettes.
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The Grand Shopping Tote (or GST for short) is among the roomiest — and many coveted — styles in Chanel handbag history.
Discontinued in 2015 into the disappointment of many a Chanel lover, it is currently one of the most in-demand styles in the secondary market — so if you place one at a vintage store, do not hesitate to make yours.
Karl Lagerfeld’s homage to Mademoiselle himself, the Gabrielle became an instant Chanel classic as it launched throughout the SS17 ready-to-wear show. The distinctive shape was inspired by the structured shape of a case.
The Gabrielle’s supple leather body allows for a pleasing slouch when swung from one arm, yet the stiff, moulded base ensures it remains easy to find your tiniest possessions at the bottom of the bag.
Notably, the Gabrielle bag was the very first Chanel tote to be positioned as a unisex style, with Pharrell Williams starring in the campaign. Its practical shape and chunky, antiqued hardware — that the very long strap allows for a versatile carry — opened the house up to a younger audience.
Chanel cologne jar
Under the creative leadership of Karl Lagerfeld, each Chanel runway is a treasure trove of all need-it-now bits for the collector. But few have commanded the fever-pitch need of 2013’s perspex and glass perfume-bottle clutch. Modelled on the inimitable No5 flacon, this novelty tote is perhaps the ultimate Chanel dialogue piece.