STYLE OPINION: THE NEW FOREVER BAGS
Understated and unadorned – but nonetheless luxurious and covetable – the new-season bags will stand the test of time, says Natalie Hughes.
A bag says a lot about the person carrying it. It also reveals much about the state of the world, apparently. In times of social, political and economic uncertainty, some opt for sartorial excess (think sequins, velvet, logos) as an antidote to austerity, whereas others prefer practicality and simplicity. The latter will likely be armed with a bag distinguished not by logos or adornment but rather by silhouette and construction. And despite the subtle (and in many cases non-existent) branding, the labels behind this new wave of forever bags have developed a cult following. If you know, you know.
The beauty of this new, quietly luxurious bag is that it transcends seasons, or in the case of Mark Cross, decades. The 170-year-old label’s signature designs have remained virtually unchanged since 1934 – a testament to the bags’ timeless appeal and impeccable craftsmanship – worn by everyone from Grace Kelly to Harley Viera Newton. Take the Sara, for example: this petite style is reminiscent of a vintage doctor’s bag, structured in silhouette and gilded by a simple, lockable clasp (a Mark Cross trademark). It’s at once anonymous and distinguishable, and is versatile enough to be worn by politicians or Instagram influencers, whether with power tailoring or rough-hem jeans.
This year, heritage bag label Bienen-Davis relaunched with evening-ready styles that, at first glance, differ from its original 1930s designs, but have much in common. Each style is manufactured by artisans in Italy; some in the very same factories that produced the original bags. In addition, every bag comes with a miniature mirror – an original feature that, in a small way, satisfies nostalgia for a bygone era, and ought to be worn with vintage-inspired eveningwear, such as a high-neck long-sleeve dress by Alessandra Rich or The Vampire’s Wife.
It’s not only heritage labels championing understatement and celebrating silhouette. Wandler’s bags are defined by curves: see the Amsterdam-based label’s Hortensia bag; its rounded, trapeze shape identifiable only by those in the know.
Manrepeller.com suggests that the rise of unbranded accessories could be attributed to a growing sub-trend called ‘Menocore’. The movement – inspired by the pared-back style of women who embrace growing older – prizes 1990s minimalism, traditionally unassuming fabrics such as linen and discreet, boxy bags. Note, this is a distinct successor to 2014’s ‘normcore’, which was marked by no-fuss sportswear and a self-conscious ordinariness. Instead, Menocore celebrates nameless luxury that lasts the distance.
Sub-trends aside, the eschewing of seasonal trends for bags that have long-term appeal reflects the fashion industry’s increased awareness of sustainability. And it’s the new labels on the block that are championing altruism and craftsmanship from the get-go. Take Lutz Morris, for example. Founder Tina Lutz enlisted centuries-old, family-run manufacturing businesses in her native Germany to handcraft each and every bag. In addition, there is an emphasis on locally sourced materials and a portion of sales is donated to non-profit organisation Every Mother Counts. The bags themselves are as beautiful as they are ethically produced, known for their structured silhouettes, extra-wide straps and low-key gold-plated hardware.
It’s no surprise that Lemaire took a similarly obsessive approach to detail and craftsmanship when conceptualising the label’s first line of bags, having become known for creating quietly luxurious but frenzy-inducing wardrobe staples. The designer called upon master craftsman Carlos Penafiel, who specialises in creating three-dimensional leather shapes, to hand-sculpt each design. The results? A small but perfectly formed selection of uniquely moulded, seamless bags – including the cult Egg bag, a camera-inspired style and an oversized tote – all devoid of superfluous ornamentation.
When styling your new forever bag, take a similarly understated approach. Think Khaite’s cashmere roll necks, Maryam Nassir Zadeh’s simple suede ankle boots and Gabriela Hearst’s pleasingly puritanical midi skirts – pieces that are reliable and enduring, even in unpredictable times.