These days, say “vintage” and the first name that comes to mind is most likely to be Gucci. This, however, is a case study that extends beyond the Italian label and all the other brands that have been infected by the granny chic fever its creative director Alessandro Michele first let loose back in 2015.
All the major fashion and accessory houses – regardless of aesthetic – seem to have come up with their own rendition of the vintage-inspired, structured, top-handle bag this season. Celine with the remarkably elegant and aptly named Clasp that, with its spare lines, looks like it came out of the 1950s – in untouched, mint condition. Mulberry, Dolce & Gabbana and Hermes (three names you seldom see in the same sentence) have put their own stamp on the classic box shape. Add to the list Dsquared2, Marni, Christopher Kane… Got the handle on this?
According to vintage bag expert Tina Lim, the style could have originated as hand luggage dating back to the Industrial Revolution, when the invention of pressed metal allowed for the creation of structured bags. (A Singaporean who’s been collecting vintage bags since the mid ’90s, Lim currently resides in Bali, where she opened South-east Asia’s first vintage bag museum, showcasing her over-1,000-strong collection last April.)
But it was not till the mid ’50s that they hit widespread popularity, she says, in part thanks to the era’s ladylike style icons such as Hitchcock heroine Grace Kelly, who favoured them on and off screen.
Says Lim: “Alfred Hitchcock used many structured handbags in his movies as symbols of femininity; of feminine assertiveness rather than passivity or fear.” The most famous: the black Mark Cross top handle Kelly toted in Rear Window (1954). (Revived in 2011, the American company is undergoing a millennial renaissance with It girls often seen with its classic designs. In December, it announced a tie-up with DJ Harley Viera-Newton.)
Incidentally, the Spring/Summer 2017 collections are bursting with womanly confidence in all its forms – from the return of ’90s sexiness to the relaxed take on power suits and twinsets. And the best part about this season’s structured top handle is that – for all its vintage appeal – it works with just about every era and look. Now isn’t that what woman want most out of an It bag?
Anatomy Of An It Bag
The shape: Most commonly a classic box, framed purse or flapover. Whatever form it takes (Elsa Schiaparelli’s from the ’30s were circular), it must be structured.
The handle: Always short and on top to be carried by hand (very ladylike), or dangled from the wrist (even more ladylike). Detachable shoulder sling for hands-free ease – optional.
The size: Ideally small for basic necessities (because that’s all women in the past needed and, come on, don’t you Uber?), or a work-friendly medium. Any larger and it’s as good as luggage (Marni’s got some, if that’s what you’re looking for).
How To Wear It
Yes, you can match this season’s vintage-style, structured top-handle bag with equally feminine, retro-inspired dresses (see Gucci and Dolce & Gabbana). But for something more effortless yet trendy, go back to styling 101 and contrast with the opposite – pants, streetwear, something masculine – as seen on the street-style crowd.
Brand To Know: Strathberry
Established in 2013 by Guy and Leeanne Hundleby, this Edinburgh-based label’s bags look like what would happen if Mansur Gavriel gave vintage-style, structured top handles a makeover. With members of its design team hailing from Loewe, Proenza Schouler and Mary Katrantzou, it focuses on architectural totes and backpacks, all complete with a top handle, clean lines and its signature gold-bar closure.
While everything is handmade in Spain, prices range from $350 to $1,000, which might explain why they always sell out at Lane Crawford in Hong Kong, where it’s been retailing since last year. Delivery from its e-shop, meanwhile, is free worldwide.
Streetstyle photos: Showbit.com
This story first appeared on Female’s February 2017 issue.
Like this? Check out why tote bags that are huggable and oversized are hot now, where to get vintage Hermes and Chanel bags in Singapore and the top 36 designer handbags from Spring Summer 2017 to buy.