THE HISTORY OF THE HERO: THE GUCCI JACKIE 1961
Beloved by and then renamed after Jackie O, the accessory is a piece of fashion history
This article was originally published on harpersbazaar.com
‘What would Jackie Kennedy Onassis do?’ is a perfectly reasonable question to ask oneself when getting dressed. After all, the famously chic first lady had objectively great style and a knack for accessorising. Her preferred finishing touches: a printed silk scarf, bug-eye sunglasses and, most importantly, a crescent-shaped Gucci bag, now known as the Gucci Jackie 1961.
There wasn’t just one Gucci Jackie – or as it was originally called, the Constance – in Kennedy Onassis’s repertoire. The style icon bought the bag in multiples, and she wore them so faithfully that Gucci ended up renaming the bag in her honour.
The story goes that in 1964, three years after the Constance was first released, Kennedy Onassis wandered into a Gucci boutique and left with six of the crescent-shaped bags. From then on, she was rarely photographed without one tucked under her arm, popularising the style and prompting the house to change the Constance’s name to ‘the Jackie.’
It’s easy to see why Kennedy Onassis was smitten. Boasting a half-moon, hobo-style silhouette and piston-shaped closure, the Gucci Jackie was a departure from many of the austere, structured bags of the era, signalling an effortless elegance that later defined the ‘70s and feels contemporary to this day. With the exception of the monogram styles, the Jackie has no obvious logos, making it identifiable only to those in the know. And those in know included Irish playwright and novelist Samuel Beckett, who was photographed looking extremely chic and writerly with his very own Jackie bag on the streets of Genoa, Italy, in 1971.
The bag was undeniably versatile; Kennedy Onassis wore hers in the city, at the airport, on holiday. She is pictured leaving her Manhattan apartment with a chocolate-brown leather version and in Capri wearing a two-tone canvas style. The accompanying outfit – a ribbed knit, wide silver belt and ruffle-trimmed midi skirt – looks as relevant now as it did in 1970, and typifies the timelessness of Kennedy Onassis’s style.
The Jackie was arguably one of the 1970s’ most photographed bags, thanks largely to its namesake, who was trailed by paparazzi wherever she travelled. It seems fitting then, that the new Gucci Jackie 1961 is introduced for Cruise ‘23 in a reportage-style campaign, in which we follow actor Dakota Johnson around Los Angeles. Captured by Glen Luchford, the film and photographs show the bag in various guises and scenarios, illustrating its versatility. Johnson is spotted running errands toting the Jackie in green, en route to a yoga class with the bag slung crossbody, and finally heading to Sunset Strip’s The Viper Room, aptly accessorised by a snake-print style.
The bag hasn’t changed much since 1961, which is testament to its timeless design. The most dramatic tweak was made in 1999 by Gucci’s then Creative Director, Tom Ford, who replaced the Jackie’s signature piston lock with a more futuristic, geometric-shaped buckle. 10 years later, Frida Giannini reprised the piston detailing when she presented the New Jackie, a larger, slightly softer iteration, and later the even slouchier Jackie Soft – as worn by a paparazzi-pursued Kate Moss in the corresponding ad campaign.
In 2020, inspired by a vintage Jackie from his personal archive, Gucci’s former Creative Director Alessandro Michele re-issued the bag in a form most faithful to the 1961 original and renamed it in line with its illustrious heritage. The Gucci Jackie 1961 was born, or rather reborn, as apart from its shrunken size and new candy-coloured palette, it had all the considered curves and sleek structure – as well as that piston lock, reimagined in gold – that had once won Kennedy Onassis’s heart.
2023’s offering is just as tempting. In mini, small and medium, there is a Jackie 1961 bag to accommodate all manner of daily essentials. For Cruise ‘23, there are seasonal styles to excite collectors – think woven raffia and luxurious velvet tapestry – and, of course, there are the classics we couldn’t do without, in neutral-hued leather and the iconic GG Supreme canvas.
It may be 62 years old, but the Gucci Jackie 1961 doesn’t show its age. It’s cool, it’s classic and it looks good with ‘70s-inspired tailoring (see Harry Styles and Cate Blanchett), grungey plaid (as illustrated by Amandla Stenberg), minimally chic airport outfits (as seen on Elle Fanning) and, well, pretty much everything. Crucially, the Gucci Jackie 1961 has a longer, removable shoulder strap that transforms it from ladylike, crook-of-the-arm tote into wardrobe workhorse, effortlessly slung crossbody. We think Jackie O would approve.