A round-up of the ‘it’ bags and what makes them iconic

By Manish Mishra

It all started way back in the 1950s when ‘it’ bags were first designed, however, it was only in the Nineties when they actually became a talking point. It was the era when fashion designers got the backing of luxury conglomerates and there was pressure on them to launch a new key accessory each season, which eventually went on to become a money spinner for the design houses. However, when does a hot-selling handbag achieve the status of an ‘it’ bag? It has to have a distinctive design feature that makes it instantly noticeable. Moreover, how the pop icons and the customers view it says a lot about its longevity and the possibility of repeated reproduction. French luxury house Hermès Birkin has been the most desirable ‘it’ bag which embodies absolute luxury. In fact, it’s considered a better investment than gold or the stock market. The most coveted Hermès Himalaya Birkin sold for $500,000. How the bag came into existence has an interesting backstory. Singer Jane Birkin on a flight from Paris to London was seated next to the chief executive of Hermès—Jean Louis Dumas. She was known for carrying a wicker basket everywhere. In the overhead compartment, the lid came off, spilling the contents everywhere. Jane complained to her seatmate that it was impossible to find a weekend bag she liked. The pair then got down to spending their time sketching a handbag on the air sickness bag. A year later, Dumas presented Jane with a Birkin bag. Since then the bag has become an incarnation of Parisian chic and French savoir-faire.


Birkin’s pockets made it highly functional and bag seals prevented anything from spilling. Hermès makes Birkins in France using premium materials like calfskin, alligator skin, and even ostrich skin. However, it wasn’t till the ’90s that they became the ‘it’ bag. Victoria Beckham has a collection of 100 Birkins estimated to be over two million dollars and Singapore socialite and entrepreneur Jamie Chua is considered to have the world’s largest Birkin collection. One’s got to spend enough to be offered a Birkin bag at the store. Moreover, one’s got to have an excellent rapport with the Hermès sales rep. Hermès also places a limit on how many Birkin bags one can buy in a year. This dedication is to ensure the exclusivity of the bag. The disparity in demand and access has created a thriving resale market. The value of Birkin bags increased 500 per cent in the last 35 years and saw an increase of 14 per cent per year.

One of the most desired Birkin models comes from the Himalaya collection, which comes in three sizes—often referred to as the holy grail of handbags. The white Himalaya Birkin features 18-karat white gold hardware and more than 200 diamonds. The 35 cm model is very rare and has sold at record prices year after year. The total number of Birkin bags Hermès produces each year is a well-guarded secret, but it is estimated that there may be around 2,00,000 in circulation.

Another bag which can compete with Hermès Birkin is the Chanel flap bag. In 2020, the classic Chanel flap bag used to cost US $6500 and now the same bag costs US $10,200. Chanel is the only luxury brand to do aggressive price increases twice in a year. Between 1955 (When Chanel 2.55 was born) and 1990, it actually increased 500 per cent in just 35 years. The bag costs five times its original value. If you compare it to after 1990, in the 33 years that led up to 2023, the price has gone up by 1000 per cent. The Chanel 2.55 remains one of the most sought-after women’s Chanel bags to date. As the emblematic piece that began the functional fashion revolution, it’s hardly surprising that the timeless significance of this enduring icon hasn’t lost its charm.


While the more of-the-moment and recontextualised Classic Chanel also remains a trend-neutral craze. A true visionary who applied the principles of modernity to fashion, Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel gifted women 2.55 Flap—a metaphor for style liberation. It was the first piece handcrafted for women to come with a shoulder strap, freeing them from the impracticalities of the clutch. Imbued with heightened practicality, each detail – from the adjustable chain strap to the accessible back slip pocket – caters to women’s every need. Its diamond-stitched quilting was inspired by men’s jackets at the racetrack and the deep burgundy lining inside ensured ease in locating the contents. Moreover, the burgundy leather interior lining also symbolised the colour of the uniform that Gabrielle Chanel wore in the Aubazine Abbey convent where she grew up. Later on, the Chanel Classic Double Flap was first introduced when Karl Lagerfeld helmed the label and decided to reimagine the 2.55. Entered two new features – a leather woven chain and Double C turn-lock closure. The Classic Double Flap became a rage later blossoming into a cult classic. In spring 2021, the Chanel Classic Flap was renamed 11.12, in honour of the original Medium Classic Flap’s style code – A01112. The universal appeal and utilitarian chic of the Chanel Classic Double Flap entrenches this bag as an emblematic piece steeped in symbolism.

Another icon which became an ‘it’ bag was the Fendi baguette created by Silvia Venturini Fendi in 1997, granddaughter of the Fendi House founders Adele and Edoardo Fendi and Creative Director of Accessories at the time when Karl Lagerfeld was artistic director. Silvia was said to have been inspired by Parisian women who would clutch the baguette bread under their arms. So she crafted the bag in a way so that it could be carried as comfortably as a loaf of bread. The launch of the bag was a pivotal moment in the history of Fendi, as the ’90s was the time when the brand just began making handbags since it has been traditionally associated with leather goods, fur (which was modernised under the direction of Karl Lagerfeld with his first couture fur collection released in 1966), ready-to-wear with the first collection in 1977, then the shoes in 1978, and fragrances in the 1980s. So thanks to the Fendi Baguette, the Italian House also became associated with handbags. Even though it didn’t gain instant popularity in its launch year, the baguette sold over 1,00,000 units! Its stellar success could be attributed to Sarah Jessica Parker who played Carrie Bradshaw in Sex & The City, which first aired in 1998. She appeared many times on the show rocking the baguette and made it a popular and must-have accessory. The popular bag later returned to the TV show’s reboot And Just Like That… in which Sarah Jessica Parker appeared wearing the purple sequinned baguette.


Also worth mentioning here is the Dior saddle dreamt up by the house’s former artistic director John Galliano, its shrunken saddle shape and stirrup-like ‘D’ charm a “tribute to the elegance of the equestrian universe”. Dior Saddle bag first made its presence felt in 1999 in Dior’s spring/summer 2000 ready-to-wear show, slung upon the shoulders of models dressed in Galliano’s theatrical split mini dresses, horsebit-buckled hotpants and sensual denims. It is believed that the Saddle bag was (at least in part) inspired by a 1976 Helmut Newton photograph entitled ‘Saddle I, Paris’. It depicts a model on all fours, wearing jodhpurs, riding boots, a push-up bra and, most importantly, a saddle – stirrups and all – upon her back. Shortly after its release, the Dior Saddle appeared in season three, episode five of Sex and the City seen on Carrie who was on her second date with Aidan. The Saddle’s It bag status was established and this was reflected in Dior’s 2001 accessories sales; WWD reported that they were up by 60 per cent. Paris Hilton was photographed on two occasions—wearing a white leather in one and another in indigo-rinse denim. Galliano reimagined the bag in leopard spots, Dior’s archival Oblique pattern, and in newspaper print. Dior’s now-creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri reintroduced the iconic bag in beaded fringe, denim patchwork, an updated Oblique print, and grained leather.

Gucci Jackie 1961 is another bag which achieved cult status and has been reimagined and relaunched of late. Synonymous with Jackie Kennedy Onassis, the Gucci Jackie was originally called the Constance – in Kennedy Onassis’ repertoire. The first lady purchased the bag in huge numbers and stayed faithful to it hence Gucci renamed it in her honour. The Jackie was easily one of the 1970s’ most-photographed bags and was recently introduced for the brand’s cruise ’23 campaign featuring actor Dakota Johnson traipsing around Los Angeles. All in all an ‘it’ bag is a piece of iconography. An emblem. A conversation starter.

Subscribe now to get latest news from

The Peacock Magazine every month!