What’s the loopiest thing you bought during lockdown? For me it wasn’t the Ottolenghi cookbook (ambitious for someone who has still not even mastered toast), the 1000-piece jigsaw (still boxed, I must have forgotten I have Netflix for a moment) or the coloured craft felt (ummm, I just don’t know what to tell you), but something far more ridiculous: a handbag.
As working and, well, everything-ing from home took hold, our wardrobes changed shape. And while some items were newly minted as style heroes – anything with an elasticated waist, all-day PJs, Zoom-ready earrings – others were rendered redundant. Suddenly irrelevant: anything without an elasticated waist, heels, and, yes, handbags. Needless to say, I felt silly.
In lockdown, what was the point of a handbag? Since I, like you, no longer had to cart around a laptop, change of shoes, book, makeup bag, huge paper diary, hairbrush, (my osteopath will testify that, regrettably, the list goes on) I started relying on nothing more than lightweight canvas bags for my grocery shopping and pockets (a revelation! Perhaps you have heard of them?) for my daily constitutionals.
'But now as we step tentatively back into Real Life, the handbag is enjoying renewed purpose again.'
According to global fashion search platform Lyst, at the start of lockdown work-related bags and accessories – think shoulder bags, totes and backpacks – saw the biggest decline in sales.
But now as we step tentatively back into Real Life, the handbag is enjoying renewed purpose again. Side note: if I was to indulge in some psychology-lite, I’d say they offer a sartorial connection to Real Life ('While I do love my no makeup look in comfy couch pants, I miss my morning ritual of getting ready,' says the designer Elza Wandler. 'I look forward to celebrating life outside of our homes again, picking out my outfit and bag to go with it'). With our lives and diaries slowly filling back up again, so are our bags.
To carry a bag now feels like a novelty – as the journalist Camille Charrière quipped on Instagram: ‘Didn’t wear a bag once while WFH so ‘walking the bag’ has become a novel post-lockdown activity (I like to think of it as exercise)’ – so you might well find that you get a thrill carrying one you already own. But if you’re in the mood to invest in something new, what should you be looking for?
‘There is an interest in ’70s style heritage styles with a twist, from the padded Bottega Veneta Cassette chain bag to the Gucci 1955 saddle which still feels quite retro, also the use of monogram canvas which can feel very timeless,’ says Cassie Smart, head of womenswear buying at Matchesfashion.com. ‘Best-selling shapes have included: timeless icons, basket bags and functional lifestyle product such as canvas totes from brands like Rue De Verneuil’.
‘I predict a shift from the simplicity of non-bag trends over the last couple of seasons back to women investing in statement bags that evoke a feelgood reaction,’ adds Heather Gramston, head of womenswear at Browns. ‘I’m looking forward to wearing two extremes - a butter soft Jil Sander oversized tote bag for day and a Balenciaga green Hourglass mini bag for night’. Indeed, nobody said you were limited to just one option.
Certainly, if you want to indulge, there’s a slew of new ‘it’ bags to tempt from fashion’s power players, including Dior’s Bobby, Louis Vuitton’s Pont 9, Saint Laurent’s Solferino and Givenchy’s Antigona Soft. They might feel like a big investment but according to Rachel Koffsky, Christie’s Handbags & Accessories Specialist and a fan of the Hermès 25 Sellier Kelly (‘the best bag I ever acquired’, although this has been safely stowed away for the past few months) they can be a savvy one, particularly now.
‘We have seen during periods of uncertainty, many collectors seek alternative investments including luxury goods,’ she says, ahead of the auction’s next Handbags & Accessories sale on 31 July. ‘This was first seen over a decade ago during the global recession, when the handbag market was just emerging. The market for luxury accessories is extremely strong and our last three auctions, hosted during this period of lockdown, have witness sell-through rates of between 95-100%. Our London online sale in June saw bidders from 39 countries, across six continents, competing for the most coveted handbags and demonstrates the worldwide appeal of this desirable accessory’.
So, savvy, stylish, even satisfyingly sensible. While I can’t say the same for the jigsaw and cookbook, I’m sure me and my new handbag will be very happy together.