The icons: Marie Claire's definitive list of the investment handbags that transcend trends

A brief history and buying guide

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What makes an icon an icon? According to the dictionary, it is 'a person or thing widely admired especially for having great influence or significance in a particular sphere’. Apply this definition to the sartorial world and you get these: a legion of It-bags that transcend the decades. Bags so influential that they have held their cult status decades after launching, some almost a century after launching, captivating the crowds to this day. Allow me to re-introduce these designer handbags to you…

1. The Dior Saddle

The Dior Saddle bag in black with gold hardware

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Other than the Lady Dior of course, the Saddle is perhaps the House of Dior’s most iconic handbag. It was dreamed up by John Galliano for the spring/summer 2000 collection, as a tribute to the equestrian world, and, thanks to its graphic curves that mimicked a horse’s saddle, was nothing like the fashion world had ever seen before. 

It appeared in the very first look on the runway, and in denim, beige and Dior Oblique, a motif thought up by Marc Bohan in 1967. It was more or less instantly propelled into iconic status—thanks in no small part to a certain Carrie Bradshaw, who famously smuggled cigarettes in it to go on a date with anti-smoking Aidan during season three of the hit show.

Part of the 00s Zeitgeist, it was toted by every celebrity of note at the time, from Paris Hilton to Mischa Barton, Courteney Cox and Christina Aguilera. As most sartorial overnight hits do, the bag went out of favour for a few years, before being re-introduced in two new formats by Dior’s current Creative Director Maria Grazia Chiuri as part of her autumn/winter 2018/19 collection.  "I wanted it bigger and stronger, but also very colourful, embroidered or fringed and beaded, so it could adapt to all situations, like a chameleon,” she said at the time. And just like that, it made a spectacular comeback.

2. The Chanel Iconic handbag

The iconic Chanel Flap bag in white with black letters scattered across the exterior

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To this day, the Chanel 2.55 handbag remains one of Gabrielle Chanel’s most legendary creations and one of the best investments you can make (a JustCollecting Rare Handbag Index study last year found that, as the Flap Bag had a 230% spike in value from 2004 to 2016, making it a safer investment than the stock market). 

First launched in 1955, it was re-interpreted by Karl Lagerfeld in 1983 as the Classic Flap, with the most notable addition of the turn lock featuring the signature interlocking Cs. It was renamed the 11.12 in Spring 2021, and still beautifully embodies the spirit given to it by Coco: an unconventional yet practical bag that exudes timeless elegance. 

The diamond lozenge quilting (inspired by the grooms’ jackets, covers and saddle blankets Coco saw in the stables) and chevron quilting, buttery leather, silk and tweed, the contrasting interior lining created with a precise stitching technique all serve to showcase the House’s unique savoir-faire. Virginie Viard’s playful interpretation for spring/summer 2024 is an ode to liberty and movement, inspired by the gardens of the villa Noailles.

3. The Louis Vuitton Speedy

The iconic Louis Vuitton Speedy handbag

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Founded in 1854, Louis Vuitton originally specialised in luggage, and it wasn’t until the 1920s that it made its first foray into handbags. In 1925, Georges Vuitton (son of Louis) created the Squire bag, a top handle, demi-lune design, exclusively for Gabrielle Chanel. With her permission, he launched it commercially in 1935 and it’s still one of LV’s most popular styles, renamed the Alba in the 50s. But back to the Speedy, which was designed in 1930 and originally known as the Express, in an echo of the world’s faster means of travel, notably the arrival of commercial flights. The 30cm duffle-bag style was created as an everyday bag, and quickly gained in popularity. 

The story goes that Audrey Hepburn requested a smaller version of the bag in 1965 to suit her petite frame, and thus a hero was born: the Speedy 25. Decades after Hepburn carried hers, it was toted by a new generation of it-girls: Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, and later Rihanna and Beyonce. Although it was originally made of plain canvas, it’s now known for its signature monogram design, which has been re-imagined by several Creative Directors and guest designers over the years.

4. The Saint Laurent Niki

The Saint Laurent Niki pictured in cream

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It went beyond the imagination to think that Anthony Vaccarello could top the Saint Laurent Loulou bag, but he might’ve done just that with its little sister, the Niki, launched on the arm of Kate Moss in the SS18 campaign. You know you’ve got a hit on your hands when it already has the seal of approval of rock ‘n’ roll, supermodel royalty. 

Much like the Loulou, it came with a vintage-inspired flap bag, a rectangular shape and was adorned with the Cassandre logo, but it was altogether a little more, well, for want of a better phrase: rock ‘n’ roll. It had a slightly slouchier, less restrictive, silhouette, made of crinkled leather designed to give it the look of a bag well travelled and loved. It was roomier and featured handy pockets to be filled with all your treasured belongings. A new It-bag was born.

5. The Celine Classique Triomphe

The Celine Classique Triomphe in classic tan with gold hardware

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Many have tried and failed to capture that effortlessly chic and timeless Parisian style, but Hedi Slimane was one of the few who succeeded—the proof is in the Celine Triomphe. 

He designed it in LA in 2018, as a classic yet contemporary, everyday bag that would seamlessly slot itself into the modern woman’s wardrobe. It was also an ode to the founder of the House, Céline Vipiana. After a minor traffic collision on Place de L'etoile in the 1970s, she stepped out of her car and gazed up at the Arc de Triomphe, noticing for the first time the chain link encircling it, forming two mirrored Cs, and put her spin on it. Drawing from the archives, Hedi brought this design back to life, aptly naming it the Triomphe, and adding it to a clasp for the first time. 

Crafted in keeping with the utmost tradition, it can be worn as a crossbody or a shoulder bag and is the perfect size for everyday needs. The subtle detail that counts: ‘Triomphe’ embossed in gold letters on the inside of the bag.

6. The Re-Nylon Prada Re-Edition 2000 mini-bag

The Re-Nylon Prada Re-Edition 2000 mini-bag in bag with silver Prada logo

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As its name suggests, this Prada icon was first launched in 2000. It epitomised the it-girl bag at the time thanks to its baguette-inspired, paired-back shoulder design. While successful at the time, it was eventually discontinued, but that didn’t stop cool girls like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner from getting their hands on vintage styles—in fact, the bag has never lost its value on resale platforms. 

Luckily, Miuccia Prada re-issued it in 2020, with a sustainable spin. It was now made of the House’s innovative Re-Nylon, made from recycled, purified ocean plastic, fishing nets and textile waste fibres. Though undeniably 00s-inspired, the shoulder bag, thanks to its minimal silhouette stamped with the iconic triangle logo, is designed to last and be versatile, another nod to Prada’s commitment to circularity. More importantly, 1% of the proceeds from the Prada Re-Nylon Collection supports SEA BEYOND, the educational program launched in 2019 by Prada Group and UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

7. The Stella McCartney Falabella

The Stella McCartney Falabella in a nude blush colour with silver chain

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Stella McCartney designed the Falabella for her autumn/winter 2009 collection, and it was an instant success. Inspired by her love of horses (the name actually comes from one of the world’s smallest horse breeds), it stood out thanks to its braided chain strap and versatility. More importantly, it was the first vegan, cruelty-free and eco-conscious designer handbag on the market. 

It’s made from a complex blend of organic and synthetic fibres, thoroughly researched and developed specifically for handbags by the company’s design team. The bags are handmade by a team of skilled artisans, who draw and cut the materials by hand, before punching holes in the bag and threading the chains in by hand with a cotton waxed lace. The bag is still Stella’s best-selling accessory to this day.

8. The Loewe Puzzle

The Loewe Puzzle in white

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Since Loewe had not launched a new bag since the 1980s, Jonathan Anderson had an important task when he joined the label: launching a new icon. And that he did, with the Puzzle, at the SS15 men’s presentation in Paris—though it swiftly made its way into the women’s collection as well, thanks to its ideal fusion of masculine and feminine lines. 

The beauty of the Puzzle lies in the craftsmanship of its origami-style design. Each piece is hand-stitched together in Madrid, and it is designed to be folded down completely flat, though you’d be forgiven for never trying this such is its artful beauty in 3D form. Trendy yet unexpected, it can be worn in five different ways and personalised with different straps, and now comes in a variety of sizes and colourways, from the classic to the eye-popping. A true wardrobe staple if ever there was one.

9. The Chloe Marcie

The Chloe Marcie in classic black leather

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Following on from the success of the Paddington, the Marcie, which first debuted in 2009, is largely recognised as Chloe’s first it-bag. It was designed by Hannah MacGibbon, Creative Director at the time. It truly embodied the bohemian, free-spirit the house is known for and was the defining bag of the boho era. Blending a feminine aesthetic with an equestrian twist and a 70s folk spirit, it’s distinguishable thanks to its decorative saddle stitches, a glint of brass hardware and a dangling tassel. It’s been re-imagined in several shapes, finishes and colourways over the years, and has remained a bestseller for the House ever since.

10. The Bottega Veneta Jodie

The Bottega Veneta Jodie in Bottega green

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Making its debut in the spring/summer 2020 collection designed by Daniel Lee for Bottega Veneta, the Jodie bag was an instant hit, and to this day it’s impossible to attend a fashion week without seeing it being toted by celebrities, influencers and editors. 

Though very much a new icon for the label, it did draw inspiration from the House’s 70s hobo bag in its trademark intrecciato woven leather. Though it’s never been confirmed by Bottega or Lee, the bag is thought to take its name from none other than Jodie Foster. In the 1990s, the actor was papped holding her woven Hobo over her face to protect her privacy, and so the new Jodie was said to be a tribute to her. Daniel Lee may have left Bottega, but this bag remains one of the House’s most iconic and recognisable bags.

11. The Gucci Marmont

The Gucci Marmont in classic Gucci monogram print

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It was hard to narrow it down to just one Icon for Gucci: the Horseshoe, the Dionysus, the Bamboo and the Disco were all strong contenders. But the Marmont shoulder bag, first launched in the Autumn/Winter 1997 collection, not long after Alessandro Michele took the creative reins of Gucci, is the one for me. Perhaps because, taking inspiration from another icon, Chateau Marmont in Hollywood, it embodies that 70s free spirit and glamour that can be so hard to achieve. 

Although the Marmont collection includes different styles, it’s the GG Marmont shoulder bag that is the true hero here: note the elegant quilted design and the flipped GG logo thought up by Michele and now so intrinsic to the House.