Cudoni’s Guide: Chanel’s Classic Bags

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There are few fashion houses with greater sartorial status than Chanel; through creativity, craftsmanship and an iconic heritage, Chanel has enshrined its authority on fashion. This is most evident in the French fashion house’s handbags in particular, which harmonise the brand’s boundaryless design with an inexorable pursuit for success in construction.

Photo Credits: Chanel 

Realising Karl Lagerfeld’s sketches into the finished handbag for large-scale production is one of the most challenging jobs at Chanel. A team of 30 core developers work tirelessly to decipher each exact dimension of a design whilst in-house modellers create prototypes for Lagerfeld’s approval. After the structure of a bag is accepted, the design developers then explore options for the finer details such as zips, chains, clasps and material, that best honour Lagerfeld’s drawings. However, creating a figment of Lagerfeld’s imagination does not end here; the elements of a bag are then tested, up to 17,000 components per collection according to ‘The Week’, and put through rigorous quality control checks. Bags are locked in a chamber at 65°C and 95 percent humidity to test their ability to withstand tropical climates, whilst elsewhere workers carry out abrasion tests on leather and fabric, and check if the metal hardware loses its metallic sheen.

The precision of initial design in Chanel’s studio continues into the manufacturing process. The production can be so complex, that craftsmen are required to undertake 4 to 5 years’ of specialist training – not surprising when each bag involves up to 18 hours of work, 15 craftspeople, 180 different processes, and 300 individual components, in the case of Chanel’s ‘Gabrielle Bag’. With such distinct details to each, it can be difficult to know which Chanel bag is best for you. Cudoni is here to help, as we give our definitive guide to Chanel’s most coveted creations.

The 2.55Photo Credits: The Handbag Concept

Tired of carrying her purse around in her hand, Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel sought to design a fashionable bag which was no longer cumbersome to women. Adding a thin metal chain inspired by both jewellery and soldier’s bags, Chanel made it socially acceptable, for the first time, for women to wear bags practically on the shoulder. The ‘2.55’, named in ode to its launch in February 1955, is a bag deeply rooted in Chanel’s identity; the burgundy lining, according to ‘Christie’s’, is said to be inspired by the uniform she wore at Aubazine Abbey where she was raised, whilst the bag’s inner pocket is rumoured to have secretly stored the notes of her lovers. Even the ‘2.55’s rectangular clasp, the ‘Mademoiselle’, was coined after Chanel and her refusal to conform to marriage. Other key features include quilting inspired by the clothes of jockeys and stable-hands, and the secret stitches at the back of the bag which ensures its structure.

The ‘2.55’ is one of the brand’s most sought-after handbags today. According to ‘Style Caster’, whilst a ‘2.55’ Chanel bag cost around £165 in 1966, they can now reach upwards of £4500. Even over the last 5 years, leather goods expert Jérôme Lalande reports that the value of the Chanel ‘2.55’ model has increased by 70%. In part due to inflation and rising costs of production, Karl Lagerfeld’s reissue of the bag in 2005 to celebrate its 50th anniversary has played a large role in reinvigorating the style’s desirability. If return on investment is important to you, the ‘2.55’ is the best luxury handbag to purchase, not only from Chanel, but across the entire luxury market, according to the ‘JustCollecting Rare Handbag Index’.

The Classic Flap

Photo Credits: PurseBlog

In 1983, Lagerfeld wanted to put his own stamp on the iconic ‘2.55’ by Chanel’s founder, and created what was to be the new signature style of the house: the ‘Classic Flap Bag’. Lagerfeld’s design exchanged the original ‘Mademoiselle’ clasp for the now iconic interlocking double CC lock, and replaced the bijoux chain with one more robust and woven with leather. In 2012, a chevron-quilted edition was also introduced to the brand’s repertoire, the 11.12.

The ‘Classic Flap Bag’ is also one of the best investment pieces in the luxury market; it’s in such a perpetual state of demand that it is almost always sold out and incurs an annual price increase of around 10%. According to ‘Elle UK’, resale value has kept up with rising retail market prices; the pre-loved price of a ‘Classic Flap Bag’ has increased from £2360 in 2012 to £3990 in 2017 – and sellers can recoup as much as 64% of the original price paid.

The Boy BagPhoto Credits: PurseBlog

Introduced in 2012, the Chanel Boy Bag drew upon the masculine essence of Coco Chanel’s style:

“Chanel used men’s underwear to make dresses; she has a boyish attitude, in fact it is the very spirit of Chanel. She got it from Boy Capel, the greatest love of her life, which incidentally, explains why the new bag is called the Boy Chanel” – Karl Lagerfeld.

The modernist spirit of the ‘Boy Bag’ is captured in its angular design, structured border and mechanistic hardware, such as its dark, heavy ruthenium chain and brick-like double CC clasp. The clasp is a distinct point of craftsmanship as, according to Rodolphe Maucolin, General Director at Chanel’s Verneuil-en-Halatte workshop, it “must sit exactly on the last stitch of the front-flap, with its top corners touching a diamond point of the quilted leather”. Any which fail to do so are destroyed, although Maucolin ensures that Chanel’s craftsmen rarely miss the brand’s exacting standards.

The modernity that  exudes from the ‘Boy Bag’ has given it instant popularity amongst young buyers, defining it as one of Chanel’s modern classics. Both celebrities and models have been spotted sporting the style, from Rihanna to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

The Gabrielle BagPhoto Credits: Jeff Thibodeau

The ‘Gabrielle Bag’ is the first bag to be added to Chanel’s range of classics in 6 years, and is more playful and versatile than the brand’s previous designs. Like the ‘2.55’, the ‘Gabrielle Bag’ maintains Coco Chanel’s belief that “elegance in the garment is the freedom of movement”, and can be worn in multiple ways. Among fashion’s It girls, the chained straps of the ‘Gabrielle Bag’ are strung both over the shoulder and across the body, enabling the ‘Gabrielle Bag’ to act as both a bag and a piece of body-jewellery. If the classic handbag isn’t your shape, the ‘Gabrielle Bag’ also comes in several iterations such as a hobo, tote or backpack – and has been spotted on street-style stars and influencers everywhere since its release in 2017. The ‘It’ status of the ‘Gabrielle Bag’ means that it has not evaded Chanel’s recurring price increases. Most recently, the ‘Gabrielle Bag’ increased in value by around 10% in the UK and up to 15% in the US, according to ‘Pursebop’.

Chanel’s classic line of handbags is named because the designs are exactly that: classic. The story of Chanel pervades every stitch, every chain, every zip; the bags tell the story of the committed craftsmen who make it, as much as they tell the story of Karl Lagerfeld and Coco Chanel. It is these timeless stories that transcend trends, and is why the bags remain so sought-after today. So, no matter which style you choose, the ‘2.55’, ‘Classic Flap’, ‘Boy’ or ‘Gabrielle’, you can rest assured that the essence of Chanel will be encapsulated in its design for decades to come.