These Are the Most Iconic Handbags of All Time

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A handbag can totally transform a look—especially an iconic style like the Chanel 2.55 or the Hermès Kelly. While they, of course, look phenomenal when styled with a tweed suit or sheath dress, they have the power to look equally elegant with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. A handbag has long since been a style lover’s secret for the simplest way to elevate even the most casual of outfits. After all, your boyfriend jeans might not have been the look that Coco Chanel had intended for her chain-strap handbags in the 1950s, but we’d like to think the modern designer would agree that we do the style proud now.

While timeless fashion houses like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, and more will never fail at introducing us to countless handbag styles that have stood (and will continue to stand) the test of time, there are a select few that stand out among the elite crowd. From the Hermès Kelly in the late 1800s to the Proenza Schouler PS1 in 2008, these are the 11 most iconic handbags in history—and the women who made them famous.

Hermès Kelly

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When this iconic handbag first debuted, the year was 1892 and the style was designed to be large enough to fit a horse’s saddle but small enough to fit in the back of a car. It took on a more petite shape in 1935, then called the Sac à Dépêches, as a travel bag for the wealthy. In the 1950s, the style was so often carried by Princess Grace Kelly (as the story goes, it was to hide her pregnancy from photographers in the hopes of keeping it from the press) that the fashion house officially renamed the shape the Kelly in 1956, forever linking the iconic handbag to its style icon lover.

Louis Vuitton Speedy

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The Speedy was another travel-turned-everyday style, as Louis Vuitton had introduced a similarly shaped yet larger Keepall when it first launched as an exclusive luggage company. With the growing demand for a smaller and more portable version of the beloved style, the brand introduced the Speedy, which was aptly named. It was Audrey Hepburn who helped make it a must-have, as she was not only a constant user of the bag but also requested that it be custom made in even smaller sizes, which are now sold off the shelves for the everyday consumer.

Chanel 2.55

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The bag that you can take to a black-tie party and still use to elevate a classic jeans-and-T-shirt look, the Chanel 2.55 was named for the date at which it was created: February of 1955. Its quilted design, chain strap, and front flap complete with logo closure make it one of the most recognized styles for fashion lovers and the furthest removed from the world of style alike. At the time of its design, and in keeping with Coco Chanel’s forward-thinking design process, the chain was so innovative at the time that it enabled someone to carry their bag over their shoulder while still allowing both hands to be free. A little-known detail about that interior zipper pocket that no Chanel bag is without? It was originally designed as a secret place for Coco to stash her love letters.

Gucci Jackie Hobo

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Another iconic bag named for a fashion icon, the Jackie Hobo was so beloved by First Lady Jackie Kennedy that it was renamed when she began gravitating toward the slouchy style. Though the bag was originally introduced in the 1950s, it was officially given its new name in 1961. Since then, it has come and gone from the main collection, first making a reappearance in 1999 with Creative Director Tom Ford and then again 10 years later in 2009 with Frida Giannini.

Hermès Birkin

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Though all of the major fashion houses have designed countless elegant styles that have stood the test of time, we would be remiss if we did not include two from Hermès. While the Kelly was the first bag to rise to such fame in the house, it was eventually followed by the Birkin almost 100 years later. As the story goes, Jane Birkin was seated next to Hermès Chief Executive Jean-Louis Dumas on an airplane in the early 1980s, expressing her need for a chic carryall handbag. The aptly named Birkin bag was born in 1984, inspired by both Birkin as well as their existing Haut à Courroies bag from the early 1900s. The waiting list for this style is no joke, mainly due to the fact that it takes at least two full days to craft a single bag.

Prada Nylon Backpack

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Though the nylon backpack is a mainstay staple of the 1990s and early 2000s, it was actually first introduced to the collection in 1984. It was at this point in the history of the fashion house that Miuccia Prada truly hit her stride when it came to the mix of high and low dressing, choosing to fashion the line out of industrial-weight nylon that was also used for Army tents. Of the backpacks, Prada explained, “I want always to mix the industrial way of doing things with the Patrimonio of the past, with the artisanal tradition.”

Dior Lady

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After being gifted the Lady bag in 1995 by the First Lady of France, Bernadette Chirac, Princess Diana was rarely seen without the style. Though it was never officially renamed by the house, it is often referred to as the Princess Bag, due to her love affair with the small top-handle bag. Introduced to the fashion house almost 40 years prior, Christian Dior was initially inspired by the chairs he used to seat guests for his first fashion show in 1947 when creating the Lady’s cane work–stitched quilting.

Pricing available upon request.

Balenciaga City

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No bag epitomized the early aughts quite like the City bag, which was most often seen on the arms of celebrities like Mary-Kate and Ashley, Paris Hilton, and Nicole Richie (to name a few). In a rainbow of sizes and hues, it was a collectible that many It girls couldn’t stop stocking up on for the duration of the decade. The style came into being at the hand of Creative Director Nicolas Ghesquière in 2000 and is still in Balenciaga’s lineup today. The slouchy moto bag was described by Ghesquière as “a new fresh thing, but it looked like an old, good, friendly thing.”

Marc Jacobs Stam

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And so comes another tale of celebrity muse to an iconic handbag shape, only this time by way of Marc Jacobs and Jessica Stam. Created in 2005, the Stam was a must-have as the decade had begun to dictate a gravitation toward an oversize shape with a tailored and elegant appeal. Much like the Hermès Birkin, the style was born of Stam’s need for a bag that was large enough to tote her portfolio around in, while heading to go-sees, but still classic enough to carry when she was decidedly off-duty.

Proenza Schouler PS1

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Ironically, this bag was described as the “anti It bag” upon its inception. It has, fortunately or unfortunately, become quite the opposite of that, rising to such great icon-status heights that generations from now, fashionable women will likely still be carrying the style. When it was first released in 2008, the PS1 was largely seen on the arm of Jessica Alba, Kristen Dunst, and Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (among other stylish celebrities). Fun fact? The name is not only born of the initials of the brand but also a nod to NYC public schools.

Mulberry Alexa

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Similar to the Proenza Schouler PS1 in satchel shape, the Alexa is the sleeker more youthful version of the edgier and more traditionally masculine predecessor. The creation was quite meta, as designer Emma Hill was inspired by a photograph she saw of Alexa Chung carrying a Mulberry men’s briefcase. While the original bag that Chung owned was, of course, from the design house itself, it wasn’t until Alexa styled it in her unique way that Hill thought to take the style and infuse a little more charm into it.

While many trendy bags come and go, these are the ones that made history—and still continue to live on as icons.

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