THE GUCCI BAMBOO BAG IS AS RELEVANT NOW AS IT WAS 75 YEARS AGO
We chart the rise and reinvention of the brand’s iconic, bamboo-handle bag, from Ingrid Bergman to Harry Styles.
This article was originally published on harpersbazaar.com
Alessandro Michele’s Gucci may be synonymous with irreverently luxurious, no-holds-barred maximalism, but you may be surprised to discover that one of the house’s most iconic bags was created out of scarcity.
The Gucci Bamboo – then known only by its product number, 0633 – came to fruition in 1947, in post-war Italy. Designer Guccio Gucci and his team of Florentine artisans responded to the not-so-small problem of a leather shortage by equipping their latest bag with a distinctive handle (and turnlock closure) crafted from bamboo – an incredibly durable and lightweight material that could be easily imported from Japan. Necessity is the mother of invention, as they say.
Although its materiality was borne out of austerity, the 0633 bag was otherwise anything but. Its saddle-like shape – an homage to Gucci’s equestrian influences – was curvaceous, handsome, and its defining features (that bamboo top handle and closure) were painstakingly hand-manipulated, lacquered and toasted to glossy perfection. In fact, Gucci patented this method and to this day, all of the brand’s bamboo handles are made this way, by expert artisans.
Needless to say, the Gucci Bamboo was a hit (and continued to be, long after leather production resumed) – with a little help from the era’s most emulated stars, on and off screen. Its cinematic debut was suitably cinematic, clutched by a leather-gloved Ingrid Bergman – alongside a matching, bamboo-handle umbrella – amidst the ruins of Pompei’s Grande Palaestra in 1954 film Viaggio in Italia. It also appeared in not one but two Michelangelo Antonioni films, first on the arm of Eleonora Rossi Drago in 1955’s Le Amiche and then 11 years later, toted by a mini-skirt-wearing Vanessa Redgrave, in ‘60s thriller Blow-Up. Liz Taylor and Grace Kelly were fans, too.
If you prefer pillowy, throw-on totes over the perfect structure of the original Gucci Bamboo, you wouldn’t be alone. In the ‘90s, Princess Diana was rarely seen without her bamboo-handle tote – a roomier, less formal style that not only worked with her much-copied sweatshirt-and-cycling-short looks, but also with the smart-casual uniform of blazers, jeans and loafers. Last year, Alessandro Michele relaunched this iconic tote as the Gucci Diana, immortalising it as part of the ‘Gucci Beloved’ collection – a series of iconic, reissued bags – and spurning a new generation of bamboo tote wearers, including Alexa Chung, Jodie Turner-Smith and Elle Fanning.
The original 0633 bag is as relevant in 2022 as it was in the mid-century – a testament to its timeless design – although now it has a name more befitting of its iconic status. Alessandro Michele unveiled the new ‘Gucci Bamboo 1947’ in February 2022, and as its modern-day moniker suggests, it has been respectfully reimagined in Michele’s signature paintbox palette, in various sizes and with the addition of a long strap (there is a leather and web option) – although Gucci posterboy Harry Styles prefers to carry his by the top handle, Ingrid Bergman-style. There is an extended family, too, of backpacks, bum bags and mini styles – all distinguished by bamboo hardware, of course.
The Gucci Bamboo isn’t just a wardrobe essential (for 75 years and counting), but as its filmic history suggests, it doubles up as an objet d’art – a notion Allesandro Michele played with for this recent relaunch. In lieu of a traditional campaign, the rebellious Creative Director commissioned a group of creators to share their artistic vision of the Gucci Bamboo 1947, resulting in a virtual gallery of portraits – photographic, illustrative, and otherwise. Artist Masayoshi Matsumoto recreated the iconic bag entirely from balloons, while Nico Ito responded to the brief with a series of otherworldly, surreal illustrations. Photographer Katja Mayer even placed the Gucci Bamboo inside a glass case, forever immortalised as something to be admired.
The reissued style – and its various siblings – is currently available to buy at Gucci, selected retailers and some of our favourite resale sites. But thanks to faithful reissues in the ‘90s and ‘00s, Gucci Bamboo fanciers needn’t choose between forking out for the original 0633 or buying the new, 2022 version. Look out for Tom Ford’s jewel-hued satin incarnations (‘90s glamour, encapsulated) or Frida Giannini’s New Bamboo, set apart by tassel detailing and still toted by the likes of Florence Welch and Sienna Miller. These styles are periodically resold on 1st Dibs and Vestiaire Collective.
All said, the Gucci Bamboo has proved itself to be a worthy investment – whether you keep yours locked inside a glass cloche or permanently nestled upon your arm.