Few design houses have amassed a bag archive as storied as Chanel’s. From the founder’s era-defining creations to Karl Lagerfeld’s later novelties, the list of iconic Chanel bags is remarkably lengthy. Here, Vogue take a look at the most celebrated Chanel totes, clutches and cross-body bags in handbag history…
When Gabrielle Chanel created the 2.55 in February 1955, (hence the name,) scandal ensued. It was the first bag for women to come with a shoulder strap – a detail that offered freedom from the impractical constraints of the clutch. It was considered rebellious, even uncouth, but women were enraptured the practicality it afforded. Chanel herself loved the way she could slip both hands into the pockets of her coat, striking a free, determined pose. The 2.55 was a revelation, and instantly became a house icon.
As the first bag created with women’s everyday needs in mind, the 2.55 was packed with practical details. The chain strap (inspired by the tiny chains Chanel would use to weight the hems of her suit jackets) could be doubled up and swung from one shoulder, while the hidden zip pocket was ideal for secretly storing love letters (as the designer, in the midst of a romantic affair, reportedly did.) The back slip pocket was earmarked for cash, and the central compartment perfectly shaped for a lipstick.
The 2.55 also marked the introduction of the two lasting Chanel signatures. The deep burgundy hue of the interior was inspired by the designer’s childhood uniform at the Aubazine Abbey orphanage, and the diamond-stitched quilting was borrowed from the jackets worn by men at the races.
Also referred to as the 11.12, Karl Lagerfeld’s 1980s remix of the original 2.55 remained loyal to the original design while adding a touch of the era’s signature decadence.
A handful of differences set these two bags apart. In the Classic, the chain strap is interlaced with black leather, and the original ‘Mademoiselle’ twist-lock clasp has been replaced with an instantly recognisable CC lock – a calling card that encapsulated the logomania decadence of the era.
Karl Lagerfeld’s 2011 launch was a tribute to Chanel’s first love, Boy Capel. The sturdier structure riffs on the boxy silhouette of a hunter’s cartridge bag, while the tougher, chunkier chain and oxidised metal hardware nod to the androgynous tendencies of the house’s original collections.
A campaign fronted by Alice Dellal solidified the Boy’s rock ‘n’ roll personality, and this rebellious member of the Chanel family has since become a symbol of the house’s androgynous heritage. Each season sees the Boy recreated in various guises and a host of sizes, from micro minis to enviably roomy silhouettes.
Chanel Grand Shopping Tote
The Grand Shopping Tote (or GST for short) is one of the roomiest – and most coveted – styles in Chanel handbag history.
Discontinued in 2015 to the disappointment of many a Chanel lover, it’s now one of the most in-demand styles on the secondary market – so if you spot one in a vintage store, don’t hesitate to make it yours.
Karl Lagerfeld’s homage to Mademoiselle herself, the Gabrielle became an instant Chanel classic when it launched during the SS17 ready-to-wear show. The distinctive shape was inspired by the structured silhouette of a binocular case.
The Gabrielle’s supple leather body allows for a satisfying slouch when swung from one arm, yet the rigid, moulded base ensures it remains easy to locate your smallest possessions at the base of the bag.
Notably, the Gabrielle tote was the first Chanel bag to be positioned as a unisex style, with Pharrell Williams starring in the campaign. Its practical silhouette and chunky, antiqued hardware – the long strap allows for a supremely versatile carry – opened the house up to a younger audience.
Chanel perfume bottle
Under the creative direction of Karl Lagerfeld, every Chanel runway is a treasure trove of need-it-now pieces for the collector. But few have commanded the fever-pitch demand of 2013’s perspex and glass perfume-bottle clutch. Modelled on the inimitable No5 flacon, this novelty bag is perhaps the ultimate Chanel conversation piece.
Chanel milk carton
A move steeped in irony, one of Lagerfeld’s most fantastical runway spectacles was in fact set in the mundane aisles of a supermarket. AW14’s Chanel Shopping Centre was a feast of tongue-in-cheek creations, including the coveted milk-carton bag, constructed in smooth silver leather and studded with pearls.
Chanel giant hoop
The iconic 2.55 silhouette has appeared in endless guises over the years, and 2013’s iteration is one of the most memorable. The signature flap, nestled within a supersized hula hoop, made for an arresting sight on the SS13 runway. The silhouette encapsulated fashion over function to almost comical degree, but demand was not hampered: while the gargantuan original never went into production, a smaller iteration did (and promptly sold out).
Chanel Oh My Boy Graffiti bag
Imagine – just imagine – taking a felt-tip pen to a Chanel bag, the way a surly teenager would scribble on a school-era backpack. For AW14, Lagerfeld did just that, defacing a collection of shoulder bags and backpacks with a mash-up of graffiti prints and crafty embellishments. The Oh My Boy shoulder bag remains the ultimate vessel for any rebel at heart.