The Collection

The Museum of Bags and Purses is a unique museum showing the history of the (hand)bag in Western culture from the late Middle Ages to the present day, including the work of contemporary designers. The collection reflects the cultural history of the (hand)bag over a period of 500 years. The museum is the only museum of handbags in Europe and the largest of its kind in the world, with a collection of more than 5.000 bags, pouches, suitcases, purses and other matching accessories such as compacts, shoes and hats.

Read more about the collection and find below a selection of the collection.

  • Bags until 1500 A.D.

    Hanging Bags and Purses

    Nowadays, the handbag belongs almost exclusively to the women's domain. Historically, however, bags were practical appliances primarily for men. Inside pockets had not yet been invented, so bags and purses were used for carrying money and other personal assets such as documents, letters, alms, the Bible and relics. Bags and purses came in many models, according to their function: bags with clasps, leather purses and pouches on long drawstrings. Apart from a few shoulder bags, these were all worn attached to the belt or girdle. Most were made of leather or woven fabrics; luxury models were made of silver or precious fabrics and were beautifully embroidered with silk and gold or silver thread. The oldest bag in the Museum of Bags and Purses is a 16th century goatskin men's bag with elegant buttons and a metal clasp. It has eighteen compartments, most of them with secret locks. Women often wore their bags and purses attached to the girdle on a chatelaine, a hook with long chains. After the introduction of inside pockets for men's wear towards the end of the 16th century, the men's bag slowly disappeared in the course of the 17th century.
    Goat’s leather belt pouch with iron frame and 18 pockets, some behind secret closures, France, 16th c.
    Originally, bags were useful consumer articles for both men and women, because the clothing of the period had no inside pockets. As a status symbol for an aristocratic gentleman, this buckle bag with its 18 secret compartments was worn attached to the belt.
    Leather book bag, Belgium, 16th century
    From the earliest times, men wore bags and purses because until the 17th century, their clothes had no inside pockets. These bags and purses were used for carrying coins, documents, letters, alms, the bible and relics.
    Gothic bag frame of iron, Belgium, 1420
    This exceptional and rare bag frame has a lock with an architectonic adornment: a gothic church with arches and pilasters. The frame was excavated in the 1990's from the river bed of the Meuse in Belgium, near Maastricht. Such frames or clasps were usually made of bronze, iron or brass and are occasionally gold-plated. Only a few of these frames still exist - some with the bag still attached - in the collections of international museums.
  • 1600 – 1700 A.D.

    A Bag for Every Purpose

    In the 17th century, as in the previous century, it was fashionable for women to wear bags and purses for everyday use on a chatelaine (a hook with chains) or dangling from the girdle on long chords. There were many bags and purses for specific purposes: alms purses, bridal purses or gamester's purses. Because of the precious materials, the refinement and craftsmanship with which they were made, they were perfect presents for the rich. They were often presented as fashionable novelties or elegant presents for royalty, courtiers, dignitaries and well-to-do friends. In England and France, it was customary to present a well-filled purse to the king on New Year's Day. Such purses served as a luxury wrapper for gifts such as money, miniatures or jewellery. Stuffed with fragrant flower petals or perfumed powder, they could be used as a so-called 'sweet bag' for scenting clothes. Traditionally, a purse with money was presented at weddings. In the French city of Limoges, special bridal purses were manufactured between 1690 and 1760: tiny egg-shaped silk purses, with enamel miniatures of the spouses, or sometimes of saints, on either side. The gamester's purse is another example of a special purpose bag. Card players used to keep their money and chips in these purses, which were fitted with a stiff round bottom to keep them upright when placed on a table. The Museum of Bags and Purses also has a beaded purses in the collection with the inscription 'Remember the Pore 1630' reminiscent of the alms' purses or aumônières from the 13th, 14th and 15th century.
    Velvet pouch with silver balls, the Netherlands, 1st half of 17th century
    In the Netherlands, women wore such pouches on a harness, a chatelaine, or belt to carry money.
    A beadwork purse with inscription ‘Remember the Pore 1630’, England, 1630
    The 17th century is noted for bags and pouches designed for daily use, as well as those designed for special purposes: gamester's purses, wedding bags, alms purses and bags for carrying a Bible. The pattern of these beaded bags was usually similar but the inscriptions vary, such as: 'A gift to a friend'.
    Silver and parcel-gilt belt pouch with image of goddess Victoria, Europe, early 17th century
    Many bags and purses were used for special purposes, such as carrying documents, letters, relics, alms, gunpowder, or as tinderboxes. They were often presented as gifts by the wealthy to a king, members of the royal court and dignitaries. The goddess Victoria, pictured on this silver bag, characterizes the costly material used as well as the refinement and superb craftsmanship of this era.
  • Sweet bag worked in silks on a ground of silver thread with text woven in drawstring, England, 1620-1630
    During the first half of the 17th century, small perfumed sweet bags served as luxury packaging for money or fragrant flowers. Such small bags with flower petals or perfumed powder were hung between or placed among clothing to give it a delicate perfume. In England and France, sweet bags filled with money were presented as New Year's gifts to the king.
    Velvet bag with silver thread embroidery, Europe, 17th century
    Until the beginning of the 18th century, women used to wear bags and purses attached to the belt or girdle. These bags and purses were often made of unadorned leather or woven fabrics. More luxury examples were made of costly fabrics, such as velvet with beautiful embroidery in silk, gold or silver thread, and occasionally studded with pearls or precious stones.
    Shield-shaped coin purse, embroidered, France, 1700-1730
    This purse is part of a series of shield-shaped coin purses with metal clasps, a type which was popular in the 18th century. The rural scenes or flower patterns on the purses are superbly embroidered with silver and gold thread.
    Leather coin purse with studs, Europe, 17th century
    Until well into the 17th century, it was fashionable for both men and women to wear bags or purses such as this one hanging from the belt. Thieves would often be after these purses dangling invitingly from peoples' waists, hence the well-chosen name 'cutpurse' for thief, which originates from this period.
  • Velvet gamester’s purse, embroidered, France, late 17th century
    Gambling was a favorite pastime at many European courts. Gamesters would keep their money or chips in gamester's purses especially designed for the purpose. These purses had a stiff round bottom to keep them upright when placed on a table. Occasionally, the bottom would be decorated with the family coat of arms to rule out any doubt among the players as to who owned the chips.
    Crocheted drawstring purse with silver thread trim, France, 17th century
    This type of special purse, made of costly materials, very refined and well-crafted, was a perfect gift among the rich of the age. These purses were often presented as novelties or elegant gifts for royals, courtiers, dignitaries and well-to-do friends.
    1700 – 1800 A.D.

    Hiding and Showing Off

    From the 16th century on, women carried the bags and purses on a chatelaine: a hook with chains to which accessories could be attached, such as keys, purses, scissors or sewing utensils. The chatelaine was the symbol of the lady of the manor or castle of the Middle Ages (French: châtelaine); the name, however, wasn't introduced until 1828. Because of their precious materials such as silver, gold, enamel, mother-of-pearl and polished steel, chatelaines were also considered as jewellery and status symbols. The design and accessories of the chatelaine evolved in the course of the centuries, but it wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that the handbag finally supplanted it. Apart from the chatelaine, women had a number of alternatives for carrying personal assets, such as the silver clasp bag and thigh bags. The silver clasp bag was worn attached to the skirt's waist or girdle by a hook and shows a great variety in form and decoration. According to the fashion of the day, the silver clasps were modernized by fitting then with new bags made of velvet, damask, silk, leather or beads. In the beginning of the 20th century, when the handbag had finally arrived on the scene, many clasp bags were refashioned by replacing the hook with a chain for carrying the bag. In the 17th and 18th century and most of the 19th century, women’s clothing was so voluminous that one or two bags could easily be hidden underneath the skirt. Such bags or pockets were usually worn in pairs: one on each hip – hence the name thigh pockets. Thigh pockets remained in vogue for most of the 19th century.
    Silk needlework bag embroidered with silk, gold and silver thread and sequins, France, 1750-1775
    In an age in which every accomplished woman was supposed to spend her spare time doing delicate needlework, the needlework bag was indispensable. In the course of the 18th century, the most popular model was a rectangular flat bag, closed on top with a drawstring by which it could be carried. These needlework bags were often made of embroidered white satin decorated with ribbons, foil and sequins. Many of them were embroidered and decorated by the women themselves, but the were also for sale in shops.
  • Beaded bag with silver frame, hook and chain, made by Van Wijk, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1771
    This type of bag with a silver clasp is typically Dutch. It was worn by women in the Netherlands as early as the late 17th century. At first, these costly clasp bags were a fashionable accessory for women of the ruling and merchant classes. From the second half of the 18th century until the 20th century, the silver clasp bag was extensively used in the parts of the Netherlands where traditional dress was worn. The beautifully worked silver clasps were handed down from mother to daughter. Following the fashion of the time, the clasp was fitted with a new bag made of leather or of fabrics like velvet, damask or silk. This example dating from the 18th century features a chain and a knitted beaded bag added in the 19th century. These bags appeared in the beginning of the 19th century, when beaded knitwear became popular.
    Pair of linen thigh pockets embroidered in flame-stitch with date and initials, England,1766
    From the 17th century until the 19th century women wore wide skirts without pockets. This fashion dilemma was remedied by wearing one or two so-called thigh pockets: loose bags worn on the uppermost underskirt, tied around the waist with a ribbon. These pockets were accessed through a slit in the side of the dress or skirt.
    Letter case of silk, embroidered with oval ivory medallion with drawing, France, ca. 1800
    From the 17th century, letter cases were used for keeping valued (love) letters, securities and bills of exchange. These letter cases showed great variation: materials such as leather, silk, glass beads and straw were used and many were embroidered with silk or metal thread and decorated with petals and foil. Letter cases were often presented as gifts at engagements and weddings or as keepsakes. The imagery and patterns on letter cases often referred to love and constancy: cupids, flaming hearts, Venus - the goddess of love - and anchors.
    Silk bridal bag with bride (Princess Maria Leszynska, the bride of King Louis XV) in enamel on copper, Limoges, France, 1725
    These days, a simple envelope will suffice as a wrapper for a wedding gift of money. In the past, bridal bags and purses were made of costly woven fabrics and beautifully crafted, using beads or enamel. A special type of bridal bag was produced between 1690 and 1790 in the French city of Limoges, known for its enamel and porcelain. These flat egg-shaped purses had brass plates on both sides, depicting the bride and groom or saints in enamel. This outstanding example shows Princess Maria Leszinska, the bride of King Louis XV of France.
  • Drawstring purse made of ‘sablé’ glass beads, France, 18th century
    A special series of pouches, purses, wallets and other sorts of bags from the 18th century is made of tiny beads the size of grains of sand, between 0,5 and 0,6 mm in diameter. Today, this type of beadwork is called sablé, from the French for 'sandy'. The beads strung on a silk thread were so small that a needle could not pass through them: a horse's hair had to be used as a needle.
    Silver chatelaine with needle case, scissors, vinaigrette and thimble box, made by Willem Rosier, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, ca. 1740
    The chatelaine is a hook with chains to which not only a purse, but all sorts of small utensils, such as keys, a perfumed ball, a thimble box, sewing utensils, and knife cases could be attached. Because of the expensive materials used, such as silver and gold, the chatelaine was a practical accessory as well as a piece of jewelry indicative of the wearer's status. The chatelaine was used from the 16th century until well into the 19th century. In the Netherlands, it was referred to as a 'harness'. The name chatelaine, derived from French châtelaine, lady of the castle, wasn't used 1828.
    1800 – 1900 A.D.

    Nieuwe tijden, nieuwe tassen

    When the Roman city of Pompeii was discovered in the 18th century, all things associated with Greek and Roman Antiquity became immensely popular. This movement, Classicism, also had a profound impact on women’s fashion: the voluminous monumental dresses of the 18th century were replaced by straight dresses made of delicate fabrics with a high waistline; a look derived from dresses and draperies from Antiquity. Underneath these delicate dresses there was no room for the thigh bags worn underneath the wide skirts of the 18th century. Their content moved into the reticule, the first true handbag, carried on a chord or chain. The French 'réticule' is probably derived from Latin 'reticulum', the small gauze ladies’ bags used in Roman times. When wide dresses reappeared after 1825, the reticule remained popular and lasted until the first decades of the 20th century. During the 19th century, the age of the Industrial Revolution, many new manufacturing methods and techniques were invented and new materials such as papier-mâché, iron and polished steel emerged and were used for the production of bags, which resulted in new models and designs. New bags were developed for the modern traveller, who went about more and more easily by boat and railway. Hand-luggage bags for railway travel were the precursors of today’s handbags (the word is derived from 'hand baggage'): carrier bags which were practical for travel, but could also be used when shopping or visiting.
    Beaded handbag with silver frame and chain, the Netherlands, early 19th century
    This 19th century knitted bead bag is attached to a silver clasp from the 18th century. An expert knitter would need two weeks to make just one bag. Before the bag could be knitted, more than 40,000 beads had to be joined together according to the pattern, in the correct sequence. Many of these bags were manufactured on a commercial scale in Czechoslovakia and Germany.
  • Papier-mâché handbag with cut steel frame, France 1820’s
    The new production techniques of the Industrial Revolution made possible the creation of materials and products in better, faster and newer ways, for example, the papier-mâché and polished cut steel used for this bag. The same materials are found in 19th century snuffboxes, trays, inkstands, and furniture.
    Handbag with painting, France, 19th century
    In the 19th century, bags with printed paintings became popular. The German Alois Senefelder (1771-1834) invented lithography (printing from stone or metal plates) in 1896, a great improvement in printing. This technique made it possible to print with greater accuracy on paper, fabric an leather.
    Leather handbag with wooden cover in Mauchline ware showing the French city Fontainebleau, Scotland, 1880s
    This handbag with wooden plates showing pictures of Fontainebleau is a typical example of Mauchline Ware. These were small everyday objects, such as needle cases, boxes, paperknives, bag and purses depicting tourist attractions produced in Mauchline in Scotland and other places. Initially the pictures were painted by hand, but towards the middle of the 19th century this was done with printed transfer plates.
    Purse of turtle, with a picture of the Eiffel Tower in silver and mother-of-pearl for the 1889 World Fair in Paris, France, 1889
    Industrial progress, trains and steamships, improved infrastructure and the growing wealth of the bourgeoisie greatly stimulated travel, resulting in a greatly increased demand for souvenirs in the course of the 19th century. Souvenir bags and purses made of beads, woven fabric, leather wood, mother-of-pearl, ivory, turtle or celluloid found avid buyers, eager to take them home as a cherished souvenir of a wonderful trip. Bags and purses showing images of churches, castles, piers and other well-known buildings were admired at home, often changing hands.
  • Velvet chatelaine bag with brass decoration and hook, France, 1974
    In the 19th century, the appearance of the crinoline brought back the fashion of wearing bags attached to the skirt's waist. This bag was aptly named 'chatelaine bag'. With the emergence of train travel and hand baggage, the use of handbags became more common. By the beginning of the 20th century, the handbag had completely taken over the function of the chatelaine bag.
    Embossed leather handbag, Germany, 1880-1990
    With the advent of train travel in the 19th century, sturdier bags became requisite, leading to innovations in leather handbags. The first models were quite small, intended to hold a purse, diary and train tickets and were worn on a chatelaine, on the belt, with a ring on the wrist and later as a handbag with a handle.
    Leather and silk letter case with embroidery, love poem and miniature painted by Favorin Lerebours, France, 1806
    This rare piece from the collection of the Museum of Bags and Purses is a green leather letter case embroidered with gilded silver thread and trimmed with a gilded frame. The inside shows a miniature portrait of a beautiful young woman in a fashionable empire dress, painted in 1806, dated and signed by the French miniature painter Favorin Lerebour (ca. 1773-?). The lady looks a little sad, don't you think? Perhaps her husband was not the home-loving type, or a soldier drafted to fight in the Napoleonic wars, far from home. At any rate, she wanted to give him a keepsake, her portrait, and something more. So she sent him a love poem; we can imagine her embroidering it herself, underneath the portrait. Of course it's written in French, the language of the elite as well as the language of love: “Que de mon Amour pour Vous Ce portrait soit la gage et l’assurance Mais mon coeur en seroit jaloux S’il vous consolait de l’absence." In translation, it sounds every bit as romantic: 'Of my love for you, this portrait is proof and affirmation, but my heart will be jealous if it reconciles you to my absence.'
    Leather ladies’ dressing case with silver, ivory and cristal necessaires, UK, 1896.
    In the 19th century, trains and steamships made travel faster, more affordable and more comfortable. People travelled much more and in different ways, so suitcases, boxes for shoes and hats and dressing cases changed as well. Trunks with round tops, which could easily be carried on top of a carriage, were increasingly replaced by flat leather suitcases suitable for stacking, which could also easily be carried in one hand. Dressing cases with brushes, manicure sets, bottles and boxes of silver, crystal, ivory and mother-of-pearl were the immediate predecessors of the modern-day beauty case.
  • Linen reticule, embroidered, with two chenille tassels, UK, 1840-1870
    The invention of lithography meant that printing techniques improved immensely in the 19th century. It became possible to print the fabrics for bags and other accessories in coloured chequered patterns, with each check representing a stitch. Such printed patterns were also used for all sorts of other needlework, such as petit-point and knitted bead work.
    Berlin woolwork and beaded travelling bag with brass frame, Germany, mid-19th century
    The travelling bag became an indispensable article in the 19th century. Suitcases, dressing cases and hat and shoeboxes were usually made of leather. Around 1826 the Frenchman Pierre Godilot made a canvas travelling bag which was to remain popular for the rest of the century. This bag could be embroidered with Berlin wool. Many women embroidered the bags themselves and then sent it to the local saddler to finish it with leather corners, handles and a metal clasp.
    Silk reticule with embroidery and Turkish knots along border, France, early 19th c.
    Partly as a result of the discovery of the Roman city of Pompeii, all things ancient Greek and Roman became immensely popular in the 18th century. This also had a profound impact on women’s fashion: dresses became straight and the waistline moved upwards. Underneath these delicate dresses there was no room for thigh pockets. Their content moved into the reticule, the first true predecessor of the handbag. The reticule, predecessor of the handbag, always had a cord or a chain for closing and carrying. The French term réticule originates from the Latin word reticulum and refers to the small mesh ladies' bags dating from Roman times. Reticules were handmade of all kinds of fabrics, often by the women who used them. This reticule is made from silk with a Turkish hand-knotted edge.
    1900 – 2000 A.D.

    New Forms

    In the 20th century, the handbag had to meet ever-growing practical demands, due to woman’s emancipation, employment and increased mobility. Women tended to have bags for every occasion and time of the day: leather document cases for going to the office, practical leather and plastic daytime bags for walking and visiting, elegant, sparkling evening bags and ‘vanity-cases’ or minaudières (metal clutches) with special compartments for cigarettes and make-up. The handbag became a fixture as a ladies’ bag. Another very popular model is the clutch, also referred to in earlier periods as the envelope, pochette or arm bag. It emerged in the 20’s and 30’s, with a revival in the late 40’s and 50’s, fitting in perfectly with the elegant fashion of the New Look introduced in 1947. Today, the clutch is back on the fashion scene once again, in modern shapes and materials. In the course of the 20th century, the shoulder bag became the perfect accessory for practical women. Because of its functionality, it first became a popular during World War II. It definitely broke through in the 60’s, when a new generation of fashion designers like Mary Quant, Pierre Cardin, Paco Rabanne and Yves Saint Laurent turned to youth culture for inspiration. A practical, ‘young’ bag like the shoulder bag was just the thing for youthful, nonchalant styles. The satchel is also a relatively new trend in fashion. In 1985, the Italian brand Prada, known for decades for its classic leather bags, introduced a black nylon satchel. The satchel or rucksack, after being considered the faithful but stuffy friend of walking fanatics and backpackers for centuries, became a fashionable accessory overnight. In the ’90’s just about every brand had a satchel or rucksack in its collection.
  • Metal clutch with enamelled decoration, France, ca. 1930
    Of course, bag designers were often inspired by the predominant art movements of the age. In the 20's and 30's, this resulted in a number of bags and bag clasps with Art Deco patterns. This international decorative style is characterized by stylized geometrical forms, bright primary colours and the use of new materials such as aluminium, plastics and chrome.
    Silk clutch embroidered with silk and cut-steel beads, Duvelleroy, France, 1930s
    In the 20th century more and more different bag models appear. A popular model from the past is the flat rectangular pochette or envelope bag worn underneath the arm or in the hand, nowadays known as the clutch. It first appeared in the fashion magazines around the start of the First World War and remained the most popular bag next to the handbag throughout the 20's and 30's. During the Second World War, it temporarily made way for the practical shoulder bag, but it regained its position with the introduction of the New Look in 1947 and became a fashionable and elegant accessory in the 50's. These days, the clutch is once more immensely popular as a stylish bag for daytime and evening use.
    Metal clutch with imitation diamonds decoration, 1950’s
    To make evening bags sparkle, imitation diamonds made from glass such as strass were often used. Strass is named after the German jeweller, G.H. Strass, who invented the imitation diamond in 1730. In the 20's and 30's, strass became immensely popular mainly due to the costume jewellery designed by top designer Coco Chanel. Besides jewellery, strass was also used on hats, hat pins, shoes and business card holders. Coloured strass was mainly used to imitate rhinestones and used on jewellery and bag handles.
    Quilt clutch embroidered with rhinestones, Judith Leiber, USA, 1994
    The American bag designer Judith Leiber is known for her magnificent evening bags and especially her minaudières. Her designs are sold worldwide and because of their exclusivity, they have become status symbols, with movie stars and First Ladies wearing them. In the 30's, she was the first woman to enter the bag designers' guild of Budapest. After the Second World War, she emigrated to the USA, where she worked as a bag designer for various companies until 1963, when she started her own label.
  • Armadillo shoulder bag, Argentina, 20th century
    All sorts of animal skin can be made into leather for making bags, but the most used are the skins of cows, goats, donkeys and pigs. The leather of exotic animals like snakes, crocodiles, ostriches, lizards and armadillos was appreciated for its special structure. Between 1920 and 1975, the use of exotic leather was very popular. However, the trade in most exotic animals became illegal in 1975 through international CITES legislation.
    Leather evening bag with enamelled adornment, France, ca. 1915
    In the beginning of the 20th century, bag types become more varied. Women have bags for every occasion at any time of the day. In the morning, she uses a walking bag or a bag for visiting and if she goes to work, she brings a document case. In the evening, she can choose from a wide range of elegant evening bags in many different styles and materials.
    Handbag of silk with printed decoration, Emilio Pucci, Italy, 2004.
    Emilio Pucci was originally a designer of sportswear. Pucci captures the spirit of the 1960's in a new spectrum of colours and wild, natural forms. His clothing and accessories are instantly recognizable by their distinct silhouettes and psychedelic motifs. The bright colours and fluid patterns were clearly inspired by the hallucinatory effects of drugs such as LSD, which was being tried out by many during the 1960s, when the hippie culture was flourishing.
    Leather handbag ‘Bamboo Bag’ with bamboo handle and lock, Gucci, Italy, 1970’s
    Guccio Gucci opened his shop in leatherware and small suitcases in 1921. His first iconic bag was this handbag from 1947 with its characteristic bamboo handle. The curved sides of the bag are inspired by the shape of a saddle, a reference to Guccio Gucci's original business, a saddler's workshop. Contemporary adaptations of the Bamboo Bag are still produced today.
  • Dresden mesh handbag, Whiting & Davis, USA 1920s.
    From the end of the 19th century, bags and purses made of chain mail became immensely popular. Chain mail, or mesh, consists of metal rings or plates connected into a network, similar to the protective chain mail worn by Medieval knights. Mesh bags were very valuable, because the rings had to be joined one by one. They were often made of silver and occasionally of other metal, sometimes silver plated. There were jewellers and jewellery firms specialized in the production of mesh bags and purses, especially in Germany and the USA. In 1909, the invention of a machine for producing mesh (by the American A.C. Pratt), made chain mail bags much more affordable. The firm Whiting & Davis, also from the USA, patented the production process as 'Dresden mesh' and became the best known producer of chain mail worldwide.
    Stingray handbag with plastic decoration, France, 1930’s
    In the past, bags were sometimes made of fish leather, for instance stingray or shark leather. These days Nile perch is also used for the production of leather. The use of stingray was quite popular in the Art Deco period, the 20's and 30's of the 20th century.
    Magazine clutch ‘Jours de France’, Hong Kong, 1970’s
    The clutch in the shape of a magazine was a real fashion hype in the 1970's. Today, similar types of clutches with images of modern-day magazines are being produced.
    Lucite handbag, Charles S. Kahn, USA, 1950’s.
    In the United States, bags made of lucite, perspex or plexiglas dominated the fashion scene in the 1950's. These box-shaped bags were transparent or made of bright lucite colours. Initially the bags were quite expensive; but as they became popular, cheaper versions were available for mass marketing.
  • Enamelled minaudière with jewelled clasp which can also be used as brooch, Asprey, London, UK, 1939
    One day in the early 30's of the 20th century, the jeweller of Van Cleef & Arpels saw a customer using her cigarette box as a clutch. This inspired him to design the minaudière: a small, usually rectangular box-shaped metal bag with compartments for powder, rouge, lipstick and cigarettes, with a mirror, a comb or a cigarette lighter. The minaudière, also called the 'Coquette', was an instant hype.
    Bead bag with ornamental clasp, Germany, 1920-1930
    From the 19th century onward, bags made of knitted or woven beads became very popular. Most bead bags were commercially produced in Czechoslovakia and Germany. Between 1918 and 1930, these bead bags had decorative clasps made of metal, turtle or plastic. The most popular images were flowers, romantic landscapes and historical and Eastern scenes. Art Deco also proved very inspiring.
    Synthetic vanity case, France, 1920-1930
    After the First World War and influenced by the film industry, the use of cosmetics increased dramatically resulting in the demand for special evening bags for cosmetics. In the 1920's, the vanity case - a small, round, oval or cylinder-shaped bag with compartments for powder, rouge, lipstick, perfume or cigarettes - became a resounding success. An interesting quirk is the hiding place for lipstick, in the tassels.
    Handbag decorated with feathers and plastic breads, Alexander McQueen, England, 2003.
    Alexander McQueen is known for his craftsmanship in his designs; street fashion has influenced his couture. His design traits often contradict one another; feminine vs. masculine, softness vs. power or tradition vs. innovation.
  • 2000 – Present

    From Fashion Accessory to Must-Have

    In recent years, handbag fashion follows the great brand names in fashion and handbag design: Chanel, Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Hermès, Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Bottega Veneta and Prada. In contrast with the previous centuries, in which fashions changed slowly over the decades, the handbag has become a fashion accessory, changing every season, with the great brands in the lead. Since the 90’s, bags, shoes, fragrances and sunglasses have become the major brands’ main sources of income and instruments for strengthening the brand name. Every brand strives to launch the ultimate must-have for the season; the iconic bag favoured by actors, pop stars and models and desired by all. Some bags have become well-known classics, still immensely popular and reintroduced by brands in modern materials and styles. Famous examples include the Kelly Bag and the Birkin by Hermès and Dior’s Lady Dior. The Kelly Bag was in fact designed in the 30’s, but became an icon in 1955, when actress Grace Kelly, princess of Monaco, was invariably seen with it. Another true classic is the Chanel 2.55 with its characteristic wafer pattern and golden chain, named after its introduction date, in February 1855. Many brands have introduced or reintroduced handbags with ringing names in recent years: the Bayswater by Mulberry (2002), the Speedy by Vuitton (originally from the 30's), Gucci’s Jackie, Prada’s Saffiano and Fendi’s ‘Baguette’.
    Evening bag ‘Socks’, Judith Leiber, USA, 1996
    'Socks' is named after the Clinton family’s cat. Judith Leiber was born in Budapest, where she studied bag making. In 1947 she emigrated with her American husband Gerson Leiber to the United States. In 1963 she founded the Judith Leiber Company, supported by her husband. The company was sold off in 1998. 
    Clutch ‘Whisper Magazine’, crêpe de Chine and metal, Charlotte Olympia, Italy, 2014
    Charlotte Olympia draws inspiration from earlier periods and fashions and from other cultures. This clutch in the shape of a folded magazine may have been inspired by the fashion magazine clutches of the 70's.
    Tote bag with lasered pattern, Viktor & Rolf, The Netherlands, 2010.
    Viktor & Rolf is the fashion label of the Dutch designer duo Viktor Horsting and Rolf Snoeren. In 1992 they finished their studies at the ARTEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem. Their label is characterized by a mix of art and fashion and of classic and avant-garde.
  • Shoulder bag, leather, Karl Lagerfeld, France, 2012
    Karl Lagerfeld (1933) is a well-known fashion designer of German origin. He is the chief designer and creative director of luxury designer brands Chanel and Fendi. Since 2006, he also has his own label and portfolio; "Karl", "Karl Lagerfeld Paris" and "Lagerfeld".
    Shoulderbag, “The 2.55”, Leather, Chanel, France, 2014
    Coco Chanel named the 2.55 after the month and year when she first designed the bag; February 1955. To this day, the 2.55 is still one of the most iconic bags in the world and is available for purchase in a variety of colours and variations.
    Backpack, leather with ostrich print, DKNY, 2013
    For centuries, the backpack was simply the walker's faithful companion, until the progressive Italian fashion house Prada launched a black nylon backpack on the catwalk. This marks the beginning of the overwhelming success of the backpack as a fashion accessory. In the 90's, every self-respecting bag and fashion label had one in their collection. In the beginning of the 21st century, the backpack kept a low profile for a time, but since a few years, it's back in fashion once more.
    Minaudière with crystals, Plastic, Yves Saint Laurent, France, late 20th century
    The minaudière, a box-shaped bag introduced in the 30's of the 20th century by the Parisian jeweller Van Cleef en Arpels, is known for its frequent come-backs on the fashion scene. These days, the model is usually referred to as a clutch.
  • Clutch, plastic, Lulu Guinness, UK, 2012
    Lulu Guiness' bags are known for their craftsmanship and quality. A very British sense of humour also contributes to her style. Her eye-catching designs are reminiscent of the glamour of the 50's. Lulu Guinness' lip clutch, designed in 2004, not only harks back to Salvador Dali's Mae West lip couch from 1937, but also to the sensual femininity of Marilyn Monroe and other movie icons from the 50's.
    Metal clutch ‘Knots’, Bottega Veneta, Italy, 2007
    Founded in 1966, Bottega Veneta is best known for its superb, luxurious woven leatherwork. To increase its market share, this limited-edition clutch, adorned with enamel and silver elements, was introduced.
    ‘Les extraordinaires’, bucket Louis Vuitton, leather and metal, France, 2006
    This extraordinary bag is a gift by Louis Vuitton to the Museum of Bags and Purses. The bag is made of all sorts of leather, such as crocodile, which were used in Louis Vuitton's bags in the past.
    Handbag ‘Bayswater’, calf’s hair with zebra print, Mulberry, UK, 2009
    Mulberry, founded in 1971 by Roger Saul, is a British label whose bags and leatherware are characterized by quality and British craftsmanship. Mulberry's iconic bags include the Roxanne, the Alexa, the Lily, the Brynmore Willow and this one: the Bayswater.
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