The bag as the ultimate object of desire is not a surprise. When a woman buys a bag, she must have no fear that it will not suit her, no matter how big or small, thick or thin she is. The bag completes her look or creates it from the start, regardless of its own characteristics. So it is the most addictive of fashion drugs. But, of course, that alone is not enough to explain why women sometimes set whole worlds in motion to get their hands on a particular model. They call stores around the world, go on mile-long waiting lists, and, if they are not rich, happily live on nothing for a month rather than go without the bag with which they fell in love. How can bags time and time again provoke this exclusively feminine feeling where without it, life cannot be complete.
The bag is actually a male invention. The coins that jangle in trouser pockets in modern times were kept in leather or fabric bags worn by men during the Medieval Ages. However, this was just because the purse had not yet been invented. The women of the Rococo movement imitated it for practical reasons: they stowed smelling salts, handkerchiefs, and powders in small bags, but hidden beneath a large skirt. That changed in the 18th century when the reticule became fashionable: a sewn silk bag with two cords, which could be coiled elegantly around the wrist. The development was, however, eclipsed by fashion; ever tighter and ever more transparent clothes no longer lent themselves to allowing the transport of essentials on the petticoat. And so the handbag was still far from its present-day cult status.
The high point came only when women began to travel: in the mid-19th century, the first railway lines for passengers began to appear, and it quickly became clear that for such demanding trips, silk bags were useless. Only at this point did rigid designs made of leather with metal frames and snap fastenings come to the fore. It wasn’t until the roaring twenties that ladies were given a first glimpse of what status bags would eventually have. Minaudieres, a kind of evening bag, belonged to the cocktail-look like a pearl necklace and a fringe at the hem. These small works of art made of plastic, silk, and gold were real gems — which is why you could find them exclusively at jewelers like Cartier. It was only in the late 1970s that designers like Yves Saint Laurent began to offer bags suitable for the spirit of their collection alongside the ready-to-wear fashion. The Fendi Baguette, a small richly decorated bag which just fit under the arm and, when worn, reminded one of the famous French bread, led in the 1990s to the era of the It Bag. “It” status was very hard to get. And you didn’t get “it” without a waiting list.