Functional To Fashionable: Bags At V&A Is This Season's Must Have Ticket

Bags, V&A ★★★★☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 10 months ago

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Functional To Fashionable: Bags At V&A Is This Season's Must Have Ticket Bags, V&A 4
What does your choice of bag say about you? Identity is a key theme at this exhibition. Image courtesy V&A.

Think bags, and where does your mind go? A chic Hermes Birkin, or that fraying tote you take to the supermarket?

It's not something I've given much thought to before, but bags are a remarkably diverse family of items. Now, the V&A has filled an exhibition with them — from solid, functional Eastpaks to a garishly reflective Louis Vuitton which screams Kim Kardashian.

Thom Browne 'Hector Handbag', Autumn-Winter 2019. USA © Victoria and Albert Museum

Though we often consider them a luxury fashion item, bags have evolved around necessity. We learn of the tie-on pockets which 17th century ladies could attach to their dresses; and the chatelaine — a waist-hung appendage for accessories. These are predecessors to the modern handbag — like Maggie Thatcher's Nuovo Bidente number, which also appears in the show.

The selection of bags takes us through history and around the world. Image courtesy V&A.

V&A's exhibition is far from just ladies' fashion: the Vietnam war required a functional bag that would dry quickly, and keep weight evenly distributed to allow soldiers to move freely; the same requirements are now worked into modern backpack designs.

Opera bag and contents, c.1910. © Victoria and Albert Museum

As the world evolved so too did bags. When falconry was big back in the day, there were pouches to store your meat in. When plane travel took off, so did the travel bag.

Margaret Thatcher’s Handbag c.1984, possibly Italy Leather, metal. Courtesy of the Churchill Archive

But bags are also a sense of identity: a neck bag with traditional designs marks out a Tuareg man identifying his roots, while a tote emblazoned with the New Yorker logo is a clear play to mark oneself out as an intellectual. (No one need know you've never actually read a copy.)

The battered briefcase from when Churchill was Secretary of State for the Colonies. Image courtesy V&A.

While items like practical totes, purses — and even Churchill's battered briefcase — are rife in Bags, fashionistas won't be disappointed. Among scores of beautiful, playful objects is a sequinned bag bearing the Dairy Milk logo by Anya Hindmarch; an insect-embedded design by Damien Hirst; and a cute Thom Browne 'Hector' piece. There's even a video showing used fire hoses being repurposed into desirable handbags

Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel, 'Chanel Timeless Classic Bag', Spring-Summer ready-to-wear 2015. © Victoria and Albert Museum

I came in expecting most of Bags to involve these kinds of voguish pieces, but came out with (ahem) bags more knowledge about this uniquely diverse accessory.

Bags: Inside Out at V&A is on until 12 September 2021. Tickets are £12.

Last Updated 09 December 2020