An “It Bag” is an idiomatic term used by the fashion industry to describe a brand or type of high-priced designer handbag by makers such as Chanel, Hermès or Fendi that became popular best-sellers. These must have bags were otherwise known as status bags and gave women a status symbol which they saw as being very important. The “It Bag” was seen as the must-have fashion accessory by celebrities and fashionistas who longed to be seen as the stylists of the year. But are "It Bags" still popular today?
When Did "It Bags" Become Popular?
The term “It Bag” became popular during the 1990’s and 2000’s. However, by 2008 the popularity of the "It bag" was reported to be in decline and in May 2011, whilst acknowledging that there would always be customers for expensive status bags, Celia Walden reported that the concept of the must-have "It Bag" was no longer in fashion.
In 2016 brands need to be ready and willing to diversify as a condition for success in the current market. Brands have not given up on the concept of creating an “It Bag”. They are still always looking to find that one bag which will become the one everyone is talking about, but realistically they are aware that they cannot put all their eggs in one basket.
History of the ‘It Bag”
One of the first designers recognized with creating the concept of an easily identifiable "It Bag" was Giuliana Camerino who founded the Venetian fashion house Roberta di Camerino in 1945. Her handbags were instantly identifiable due to their artisan-made hardware and distinguishing use of fabrics formerly reserved only for clothing. Her innovations which had an effect on later luxury brand designs included 1) in 1946, bags patterned with a trellis of R's (predating Gucci’s G's); 2) in 1957, woven leather bags (predating Bottega Veneta); and 3) in 1964, she designed a handbag with a unique articulated frame (an idea later used by Prada).
Giuliana Camerino bag with the "R" logo
Well before the concept of the "It Bag" took hold many fashion houses such as Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton had already created handbags that became famous in their own right. For example, in 1935 Hermès created a top-handled leather handbag called a “sac à dépêches“ as part of their leather goods range. In 1956 this same handbag was renamed “the Kelly” when it became one of grace Kelly’s favorites.
The Hermes Kelly Bag (top) vs the Hermes Birkin Bag (bottom)
In February 1955, Coco Chanel created her luxury quilted-leather Chanel 2.55 handbag which was Inspired by the straps found on soldiers’ bags to free up her hands. In 1984, e.
Quilted-leather Chanel 2.55 handbag
The infamous Birkin was created by Hermès who modified another of their designs, the Haut à Courroies (originally created around 1900) to create a bag for the actress and singer Jane Birkin. The Birkin has since become one of the most desirable, most widely recognised bags ever mad.
Jane Birkin and the first Birkin Bag
In 1994, the Lady Dior became a sensation when Princess Diana took to wearing it around town after she separated from Prince Charles. This bag is a seductive combination of briefcase and handbag which has distinctive gold charms. It depicted a serious woman who was nonetheless glamorous and sophisticated
Princess Di with a Lady Dior Bag
Coined in the 1990s, the term “It Bag” became wide-spread with the explosive growth of the handbag market. Fashion houses competed to produce a distinct, easily recognizable design which would become that season's must-have bag, selling in large numbers which. This took skilfully marketing and endorsement by the fashion press. And of course, as with “the Kelly”, one of the biggest marketing advantages was for the bag to be seen being carried by a celebrity.
Since the 2000’s fashion trends have been driven more and more by social media and this also goes for the “It Bag”. Pictures of celebrities carrying a particular brand can go viral leading to a huge demand in a particular handbag design.
Designers such as Bottega Veneta, Chanel, Fendi, Hermès, Prada, Gucci, Vuitton, Chloe, Mulberry continue to be recognized as creators of status bags. But the release of many of their latest designs created a waiting list for orders, leading to impatient customers to knowingly purchase counterfeit bags. Also, must-have bags for the current season were often targeted by thieves and stolen to order, to be sold for significantly reduced prices to people who wanted an “It Bag” without paying full retail.
In the 2000’s many cheaper more contemporary brands entered the market making designer handbags more affordable to the many. But as the market for handbags becomes more crowded and competitive, some luxury brands are taking a more balanced, diversified approach to their product categories rather than focus on an “It Bag”. Their focus is more on high-margin, low cost-per-wear status symbols that have driven a significant proportion of luxury goods growth for the last decade.
While personal accessories which is typically made up of handbags, still accounts for almost 30 percent of the total global luxury market, the handbag sector is now producing fewer and fewer “It Bag” designs. Many brands such as Valentino and Vetements, do not even have an “It Bag”.
Very few bags now become iconic status symbols like the Birkin and Chanel 2.55 did. The lifecycle of a handbag is becoming shorter and shorter even for the latest designs and brands are relying less on an “It Bag” to drive sales. Many brands are relying more on their “ready-to-wear” clothing categories and also shoes and jewelry as revenue drivers.
In fact, fashion consultant, Julie Gilhart says that there is a greater trend to build a full brand, and a shift in thinking away from a dependence on an “It Bag”. She says “What's a best seller now may have a short life, and then what? Smart brands know to grow holistically and broad. They have to build a business through all categories.”
An "It Bag" is an investment
If you are lucking enough to get hold of an "It Bag" it is a good investment because they do keep their value and can even increase in price. The most expensive bags ever to sell at auction over th last fe years have all been Birkins. The Birkin bag, which was designed in 1984 by French fashion house Hermès and named after the actress Jane Birkin, is seen as a fashion classic. To get your hands on a Birkin will cost you thousands of dollars and there is a waiting list.
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