There is a thing about bags. Shoes used to be the ultimate accessory and the one thing that women can’t get enough of. Now it seems they seem to have been replaced by the handbag. Perhaps because, as a status symbol, they are more visible and you can and swing it around in front of everyone. There is a reason why little boys love to play with sticks and girls love play with mum’s handbags.
I went to the V & A to see this latest exhibition and I have mixed feelings about it.
As always, the story of the handbag as we know starts with its most basic aspects, which was the military bag. Before style and chichi, bags had first and foremost a function: to transport important, useful and practical stuff in a safely manner.
A bag can greatly enhance someones appearance and increase their status, similar to shoes. Wear a scruffy pair of jeans with sneakers and you look scruffy, but wear them with heels and it’s a fashion statement. There is a notion that the absence of a logo can indicate that you are “in the know” rather than flashing logos.
The large majority of visitors were women and I probably heard four or five times a loud exclamation à la “That is the bag I want! This is my dream bag! Look! This one!“ almost as if in brackets they were to say …”if I could afford it”. The retail price for my personal favourite starts at an eye watering 10k and is highly exclusive. Not only that, you have to have a relationship with a sales rep in order to get one. Even if you’re willing to splurge 40k on a medium size handbag, you might be able to get one if you’re not deemed worthy. Birkin, of course. It made me think of a quote:
The things you own, end up owning you.Fight Club
Another thing I loved was the makers table. For those of you who love to get crafty, this table is inspiring. The films give a semi in-depth look into the Mulberry “factory” (if you can call it that), and how much meticulousness it requires to produce a single bag. In the end, you can say the price is justified.
However, Im afraid I have to end this piece on a sour note. An influencer who calls himself Mr Bags was interviewed for the exhibition to give his two cents to the subject. Now I have nothing against bloggers talking about their passions (I mean, hey?) however, in this case, I find the input rather superficial. We learned that he is charging clients for his service, which consists of telling them which bag to buy, so they “don’t make the wrong decision”. He didn’t elaborate on his parameters though. Rather than advertising a bloggers service, I would have appreciated to hear from a fashion historian, as there are surely more fascinating and inspiring tales to tell. But these are the times we live in.
The exhibition is on until 16 January 2022.
Inside Out explores the style, function, design and craftsmanship of the ultimate accessory.