To have and to hold: The cult classic handbags you can own now

A handbag is so much more than an aspirational accessory — it’s there for us during many of life’s big and small moments, whether it’s been buffed and readied the first day at a new job, or stuffed to the brim as we head away on holiday. Some of the most coveted handbags have already been carried on the shoulders of history’s most stylish women, with a story behind every silk lining. Following on from a long history of iconic hold-alls, we share 20 cult classic handbags you can shop now, and hold close forever.

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Dior Lady Dior

Dior Lady Dior

Dior Lady Dior

Dior Lady Dior

Twenty-six years ago, the First Lady of France gifted Diana, Princess of Wales, the boxy, cross-stitched handbag that has since been named in her honour, Lady Dior. It became a favourite of Diana’s, and she wore it on several occasions, including to the Met Gala in 1996, paired with that midnight blue slip dress. To this day, it remains one of the Maison’s most prized purses. For 2021, it comes in all manner of sizes and looks, from Diana’s classic black to constellation embroidery.

Available from Dior

Prada Cleo

Prada Cleo

Prada Cleo

Prada Cleo

As one of the first accessories to come out of Miuccia Prada and Raf Simons’s collaborative partnership at Prada, the Cleo is an instant classic. A polished adaptation of the brand’s signature re-issued nylon mini bag — which first gained traction in the early-aughts — the House has called it a “synthesis of classicism and futurism”. Designed to hug the body when worn over the shoulder, it’s the fashion comfort we need now.

Available from Prada

Chanel 2.55

Chanel 2.55

Chanel 2.55

Chanel 2.55

While it’s synonymous with style today, Chanel’s 2.55 bag was a revelation when it made its official debut in 1955. Ever the innovator, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel was the first to offer a luxury handbag with a shoulder strap, the gold chain introducing women to a hands-free lifestyle. A hidden pocket zipped inside was introduced to hide letters from Coco’s lover. Still with its signature chain, you can now shop the style in quilted tweed, calfskin leather, or encrusted in crystal pearls — best picked up when travelling overseas.

Available from Chanel

Gucci Jackie 1961

Gucci Jackie 1961

Gucci Jackie 1961

Gucci Jackie 1961

During the 1960s ‘youthquake’ handbags had to shift shapes quickly if they wanted to remain relevant. The original ‘hobo’ bag by Gucci had a soft crescent moon shape and was beloved by Jackie Kennedy, whose name was given to the style. While still steeped in the House’s tradition, Alessandro Michele has added a contemporary edge to the Jackie 1961, with a sleek design and shined piston hardware.

Available from Gucci

Hermès Birkin

Hermès Birkin

Hermès Birkin

Hermès Birkin

No luxury handbag round-up is complete without a Hermès Birkin. Legend has it that on a Paris to London flight, Jane Birkin spilled the contents of her bag down the aisle, and the chairman of Hermès helped her pick it all back-up — promising to make her a bag that could hold all her belongings together. While getting your hands on a Birkin today is notoriously difficult, there are several fine, authenticated examples for sale on the secondary market, including on The Real Real.

Balenciaga Downtown

Balenciaga Downtown

Balenciaga Downtown

Balenciaga Downtown

In the early 2000s, It-bags became famous in their own right, and attracted long waitlists from eager fans. Balenciaga’s Motorcycle bag encapsulated tough-chic city living, with metallic hardware and practical pockets. Under its latest streetwear savvy Creative Director Demna Gvasalia, Balenciaga’s new Downtown shoulder bag follows along with the same sentiment, refined. The sculptural silhouette of the hourglass gives a novel yet sophisticated shape that you will never tire of.

Available from Balenciaga

Fendi Baguette

Fendi Baguette

Fendi Baguette

Fendi Baguette

Inspired by a French bread stick, Fendi’s long and skinny Baguette bag was under every celebrity’s arm after it was added to the Sex and the City wardrobe in the late 1990s. As that other fashion icon makes a comeback, so too is this cute style. Its latest revivals are slightly more structured and come in a myriad of materiality, including leather cross-stitching, embossed embroidery motifs and gold double F hardware. 

Available from Farfetch

Louis Vuitton Speedy

Louis Vuitton Speedy

Louis Vuitton Speedy

Louis Vuitton Speedy

Louis Vuitton’s cult brown and beige canvas monogram was created in 1876 by the House’s eponymous founder and a century later it was still the height of fashion when Audrey Hepburn requested her own, slightly smaller, Speedy so she could take it with her everywhere. Several sizes can be shopped at LV, as well as modern iterations, including the recent Speedy Bandoulière 25 created by Italian artist Piero Fornasetti, and customisable Heritage styles.

Available from Louis Vuitton

Saint Laurent Loulou

Saint Laurent Loulou

Saint Laurent Loulou

Saint Laurent Loulou

Yves Saint Laurent once said of his close friend and confident Loulou de la Falaise: “It is important to have Loulou beside when I work on a collection… Her presence at my side is a dream”. We could say the same of the LouLou handbag named after her, its soft but boxy structure comes with a front flap closure and puffer or quilted chevron finish that is a delight to take everywhere with you. Thanks to its success as a style, it’s now available in a range of sizes and materials, which are available through Auckland’s Westfield Newmarket store.

Available from Saint Laurent

Loewe Puzzle

Loewe Puzzle

Loewe Puzzle

Loewe Puzzle

Spanish heritage brand Loewe was founded in 1846 in Madrid, and its bags have been held by many prominent figures from Marlene Dietrich to Sophia Loren, and even Ernest Hemingway. The brand has been brought into the 21st century by Creative Director Jonathan Anderson. His first bag design after coming on board in 2013, the Puzzle bag has an innovative cuboid shape that is meticulously handcrafted to create a supple yet distinctively geometric silhouette — impressively updated each season.

Available from Loewe

 

Mulberry Bayswater

Mulberry Bayswater

Mulberry Bayswater

Mulberry Bayswater

Mulberry is marking its 50th anniversary by re-issuing a number of its iconic handbag styles in the Sustainable Icons collection. The highly collectable Bayswater is a timeless shoulder bag that unites Mulberry’s craft heritage and effortless style, proudly finished with the signature Postman’s Lock. Worn by many British celebrities, the Bayswater was originally developed by Design Director Nicolas Knightly and has since been updated by Creative Director Johnny Coca, who commented: “Times change, our lives change. The Bayswater remains a Mulberry icon.”

Available from Mulberry

Chloé C

Chloé C

Chloé C

Chloé C

In the 60s and 70s, Karl Lagerfeld designed bags for Chloé (where he worked before Chanel) that were rounded with exotic trimmings for the free-loving fashion set. Then, in the early 2000s, (the beginning of the it-bag), Phoebe Philo struck a chord with her slouchy Paddington bag. Under the new Creative Director Gabriela Hearst, the Chloé C brings together heritage shapes, an adaptable strap so it can be worn cross-body, and strong gold hardware to become a new cult classic. 

Available from Workshop

Bulgari Serpentini

Bulgari Serpentini

Bulgari Serpentini

Bulgari Serpentini

Italian luxury jeweller Bulgari began designing its coiled Serpentini works in the 1940s, and they were beloved by true gems, including Elizabeth Taylor. The Serpentini handbag takes from the iconic snake bracelet design, in a boxy bag that sheds its skin each season for a whole new look. We currently have our eyes on apricot or emerald leather with a snaking gold chain.

Available from Bulgari

Alexander McQueen Curve

Alexander McQueen Curve

Alexander McQueen Curve

Alexander McQueen Curve

Alexander McQueen’s longtime colleague and his eponymous brand’s Creative Director Sarah Burton has designed a whole new shape for spring/summer 2021. The curve is a structured bucket bag that offers something a little different to the soft bags that have been doing the rounds. The criss-crossed piped trims allude to the House’s harness silhouette, a favourite of the late McQueen.

Available from Net-a-porter

Bottega Veneta Cassette

Bottega Veneta Cassette

Bottega Veneta Cassette

Bottega Veneta Cassette

With the appointment of Daniel Lee as Creative Director of Bottega Veneta, the Milan-based luxury fashion house has blown up both its fashion following and its classic silhouettes. Lee’s latest Cassette bag increases the proportions of the brand’s iconic ‘intrecciato’ weave for a truly new take on its heritage that has serious legs. 

Available from Matches Fashion and T Galleria by DFS.

Furla 1927

Furla 1927

Furla 1927

Furla 1927

Named after the year the Italian luxury house was founded, Furla 1927 is a mini cross-body bag in soft Tejus-print calfskin that shows off the House’s time-honoured design. The bag features the iconic metal twist closure with a Furla logo on the front, whether you choose yours with a ladylike top-handle, or girl-on-the-go cross-body strap.

Available from Furla at Commercial Bay

Stella McCartney Logan

Stella McCartney Logan

Stella McCartney Logan

Stella McCartney Logan

Stella McCartney is on a mission to change the fashion industry from the inside out, and her leather-look Logo bag is worth a look-in thanks to its innovative material and charming design. Its well-placed folds, punctured logo and comfortable shoulder strap are made for women who find beauty inside and out, too. 

Available from Scarpa at Commercial Bay

Versace La Medusa

Versace La Medusa

Versace La Medusa

Versace La Medusa

It is said the late Gianni Versace chose the Medusa head logo for Versace after remembering seeing it in ancient ruins he and his siblings played in as children. Unable to look away from Medusa for too long, like the myth, he retrieved this image from his childhood memory and turned it into the most alluring brand of the 80s and 90s. The La Medusa bag range heroes this motif in its bold hardware, crafted in Italy, of course.

Available from Farfetch

Burberry Pocket

Burberry Pocket

Burberry Pocket

Burberry Pocket

Taking inspiration from Burberry’s archival Michelle Shopper — a soft luggage-style sold in the 80s and 90s — the Pocket tote is a reinterpretation by Creative Officer Riccardo Tisci. The vintage silhouette has a wide pocket on the front, as well as topstitching and leather tapping to evoke a contemporary feeling.

Available at Harrods online, and Burberry’s Auckland flagship when it opens in Westfield Newmarket.

Celine Luggage

Celine Luggage

Celine Luggage

Celine Luggage

Under Phoebe Philo’s practical and polished eye, Celine’s unfolding Luggage Tote was made for women who wanted to have it all in the 2010s. While the House’s Creative Directors have controversially changed, this enduring style remains — whether it’s micro or true to scale, in a muted tone or classic black. You now need a YouShop account to pick-up one of these from Celine’s online store.

Available from Celine

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