Designer Handbags, Leather Handbags
It has taken literally hundreds of years for handbags to become widely available to ordinary people. There were of course bags for gentlemen and ladies, craftsmanship and street sellers. However, these handbags were strictly "working bags" and there was a big difference in the quality of materials and workmanship of these early handbags depending upon your social status.
By the early C17th ladies handbags had virtually disappeared, to be replaced by pockets discreetly disguised in the folds of dresses. Yet by the close of the C18th, the female silhouette had changed. Close-fitting dresses became fashionable, excluding the use of pockets. This heralded the return of the handbag; feminine style, rich in materials, always perfectly matched to dress fashion. An example of the new fashion were the "Balantile" handbags, which ladies swung to and fro, hung to knee height, and in urn, shell or floral shapes.
Notable handbags from the late C18th-early C19th were the "Alms" bag for needle and thread, but also used for jewels or souvenirs, of pure silk with finely stitched embroidery and multi-coloured beadwork. Other stylish handbags from the second half of the C19th were the small black pleated satin shell-shaped evening bags and beautifully tailored small leather travelling bags.
For ladies in the years after the First World Ward, the disappearance of corset gave them greater physical freedom and also marked a more independent attitude; narrow hats, skirts as short as possible and the handbag clasped to the arm, an indispensable companion and friend. Demand for handbags large enough to contain now indispensable items was met by a variety of models with practical handles, large zips and external pockets. Handbags became an indispensable accessory for all hours; morning, afternoon and evening. The demand for designs for different times of the day indicated that women were now allowed to leave the house without chaperon, to carry money, powder puff and comb.
Beautiful designs of the 1920s include brown pig skin envelope styles with geometric designs, embossed with brightly coloured inlaid work. The small "pochette" was becoming popular, with stunning examples of richly embroidered floral designs with multi-coloured beads.
The Handbag sector covers handbags with or without handles and/or shoulder straps, designed to carry everyday personal belongings. Occasional evening bags are also included as handbags. The market can be divided into firstly, traditional real leather handbags, produced from mechanically or chemically processed animal pelts, and secondly, synthetic fabric handbags, constructed mainly from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane. Of the former, the highest quality handbags are made of full grain leather and the lowest quality handbags made of white split leather.
It is estimated the UK handbag industry is worth £1 billion and is growing steadily in value. This growth in handbag sales is put down to women regarding handbags as essential, having more than one, co-ordinating them with outfits as fashion accessories and choosing different sizes or styles to suit the occasion..
The UK once had a thriving leather handbag industry centred largely in Southwark, East London and Walsall. However, as with all industries in the UK, decline set in from lack of investment, the arrival of synthetic fabrics and the influx of cheap imports. These days, what is left of the UK handbag industry concentrates on high quality and design. Half of the UK handbag imports from the EU come from Italy, with France and Spain major handbag exporters to the UK. From outside the EU, predictably nearly 90% of handbags come from China, although India exports a significant amount of leather handbags the UK.
The high end of the UK handbag market thrives because buyers realise if looked after, the leather will age well, and buying good quality is a worthwhile investment. Italy is renowned for its fine leather, with Tuscan leather particularly prized. Fashion Houses Gucci and Prada have Tuscan roots.
Current trends within the handbag sector are for handbags to be made of tweed and wool in an imitation of clothing. The Leading supplier of leather for handbags is Pittards, who report a growth in demand for more colourful and textured leather. A continuing trend is the in-corporation of pockets for mobile phones and other electrical gadgets.
The 1980s was the age of conspicuous consumption and marked the rise of the designer brands, clearly identifiable and expensive, consumer icons that inspired obsessive desire. A time where sports influenced high fashion and pockets appeared in handbags for the "must have" pocket calculator and filofax.
No designer handbag was ever more decadent than the 1983 ‘Faberge Egg' evening bag, which was rhinestone encrusted. In 1988 Donna Karan's small evening bag that slipped into a tote was advertised as seen in their own right. 1984 Bottega Veneta's advertising campaign slogan was "When Your Own Initials are Enough". Karl Langerfield, chief designer of Chanel reworking the 2.55 in washable jersey, rubber and terry cloth. Moschino, launched in 1983, trademark good natured mockery of haute couture which became fashionable itself.
1990s smaller designer bags with giant H and CCs swung all over London, New York and Paris. Jane Shilton continued to provide affordable and well made bags. Smart handbags remained small and shapely, with twisted gilt bracelet handles from Saint Laurent, quilted denim from Chanel and Hermes signature Kelly bag, minaturised and worn around the neck.
British makers emerged in the 1990s in a long tradition of artist craftsman. London's Bill Amberg's "small rocket" bag is a great example, with black bridle leather, cast aluminium handles and nickel clamped feet. Anya Hinmarch and Lulu Guiness "House" contributed to the revival of small, feminine handbags. In 1997 milliner Philip Treacy created a collection of sculptured handbags where handbags became art.
Designer handbags were available in a bewildering choice of styles and materials; Luxury evening bags from Paloma Picasso, Nina Ricci, Lacroix, Daniel Swarovski, Herve Leger, Armani and Erickson Beamon. Fendi's baguette bag, Min Min's waist bag, beaded one-offs, little Eastern bags and Prada's flat waist and legs bags of 1999 showed a wild diversity. One of the most decadent and innovative designer handbags of the 1990s was from Karl Lagerfeld, whose ‘2005' handbag in the shape of a womans' bottom paid tribute to the ‘2.55' created by Gabrielle Chanel in 1955; with Polyethylene shell, aluminium frame, in black jersey, tweed or leather, and a shocking "fetishistic" interior with a corset style laced mobile phone holder.