Bags: Inside Out

It’s usually said that you’re either a shoe or bag lady, and I definitely love shoes far more than bags. When I was a child, I was told off by my mother because I couldn’t resist trying on her high heels. Nonetheless, it was really exciting to observe some of the most iconic bags of all time at the Victoria & Albert Museum.


The upcoming exhibition Bags: Inside Out opens to the public this Saturday (12 December 2020), and offers a comprehensive approach to this beloved accessory, from design and making to function.

There are quite a few surprising highlights, from a delightful 1600s ‘frog’ purse to a 19th century chatelaine (waist-hung appendage with multiple attachments) and a Louis Vuitton trunk from 1900s.

Obviously, for fashion aficionados, the most thrilling aspect of a bag is its ability to become a style icon. The so-called It bag is a phenomenon that started in the 90’s and continues to this day, when a particular designer bag assumes such a status that doesn’t lose its momentum over time.

Often, these bags are associated with a particular woman who wears the bag with such elegance that it becomes imbued with her character, a match made in heaven.

Think of Hermès ‘Kelly’ handbag and the ‘Lady Dior’ named after Princess Diana. This extends beyond royalty, one of the most expensive bags in the world, considered an investment by connoisseurs, is the renowned Birkin, also by Hermès, named after actress and singer Jane Birkin.

And let’s not forget the classic Chanel bag, revived by Karl Lagerfeld and imitated over and over again. If we consider British brands, Mulberry has just brought back the ‘Alexa’ bag, named after Alexa Chung, which you can also appreciate in this exhibition.

But it’s not so easy to achieve the It bag status, a popular yet enduring classic. What seems to be prevalent these days is the must-have trendy bag, similar to those people who become instantly famous but tend to be forgotten after a while.

“From a lavish 16th century purse made for royalty to the everyday tote bag, this exhibition offers an understanding and insight into the function, status, design and making of bags across the world and throughout history.” Lucia Savi, curator of Bags: Inside Out at the V&A

In any case, it doesn’t really matter if one is into big logos or understated craftsmanship, the bag is not just something to carry our belongings but an expression of who we are. It can definitely add a special touch to an outfit, think of an exquisite clutch bag complementing a dress in the red carpet.

The exhibition ends on a good note with designers experimenting with innovative and environmentally sustainable materials, including a Stella McCartney backpack made from recycled ocean plastic waste and a bag crafted from decommissioned fire hoses by Elvis and Kresse.

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