Five Cult-Classic Designer Handbags and Their Muses

Nowadays, handbags are more than functional accessories, they are collector’s items, too. Although the earliest documentation of bags dates back centuries, it was British businessman Samuel Parkinson who envisioned the modern carry-all in 1841. Parkinson commissioned luxury leather handbags in a variety of sizes for his wife. The designs later inspired Guccio Gucci and Louis Vuitton’s iconic designs.


Designer Bags Made Famous By Women

Mrs. Parkinson inspired his husband to bring modern handbags to life. Since then, more women have inspired designers to create some of the most coveted handbags in the world.


Jane Birkin, Hermès Birkin Bag

Arguably the most sought-after designer handbag in the world, the Hermès Birkin originated on a fashion-fated flight from Paris to London in 1984, when Jean-Louis Dumas, the chairman of Hermès from 1978 to 2006, and British actress Jane Birkin were seated next to one another on the plane. Birkin complained about the lack of stylish, yet functional travel bags, which inspired Dumas to reinvent an old model of Hermès bag in black leather into the iconic Birkin we all know and love today. The handbag reached immediate cult status and was in high demand, with each piece having to be custom ordered at Hermès in an array of materials – from classic fine leather to rare and exotic crocodile skins – and paired with chic metallic hardware.

Because of the high level of craftsmanship and the exclusive nature of ordering the bag, which often necessitates being a frequent customer and having a good relationship with the brand and its sales associates, Birkins are excellent investment bags for growing your wealth. Editions often resell for at least double the original price. In fact, the world’s most expensive handbag is a Matte White Himalaya Niloticus Crocodile Birkin 25 made of exotic crocodile skin with white gold hardware embellished with diamonds, which sold in 2017 for $388,000 at Christie’s Hong Kong.


Princess Diana, Lady Dior

The most omnipresent Dior handbag today was initially an unreleased model that the former First Lady of France, Bernadette Chirac, gave Princess Diana as a gift on her trip to Paris in 1995 during the Paul Cezanne exhibit at the Grand Palais. The black leather handbag became Diana’s favorite accessory overnight. The former Princess of Wales had been photographed with her beloved Lady Dior around the world, from an official trip to Buenos Aires in 1995 to the Met Gala in 1996.

The House of Dior originally called the bag “Chouchou” (French for “pet”). However, after Diana popularized the purse, it was nicknamed “Princesse” before officially becoming “Lady Dior.” The bag’s design pays homage to both the legendary Christian Dior himself and French heritage. The bag’s quilting known as “cannage” (French for “caning”) is a nod to the Napoleon III chairs found at Christian Dior’s Avenue Montaigne home, which guests sat on during his runway shows. The metallic D-I-O-R letter charms that dangle from the handles symbolize the lucky charms that Christian Dior, who was superstitious, often brought with him.

Today, Dior has reissued the bag in a variety of styles, materials, colors, and sizes. Vintage Lady Dior versions from the 1990s and those in exotic crocodile skins have sold for up to $20,700 at auction.


Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Gucci Jackie 1961

During her time as First Lady of the United States (1961 to 1963), Jackie Kennedy set a high fashion standard among American women. Her sophisticated clothing choices – which included couture from European ateliers such as Chanel and Valentino, as well as custom looks by Oleg Cassini – piqued the interest of both the American public and the world. Her pillbox hats, skirt suits, daring strapless gowns, white gloves, and A-line shift dresses characterized the “Jackie Look” that everyone loved.

Following the assassination of JFK in November 1963, Jackie moved to New York and married Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Socrates Onassis in 1968, splitting her time between Europe and the U.S. until 1975, when she returned to New York City permanently. In the decades following her time as First Lady, Jackie’s style evolved to become more simple yet elegant. She often wore and combined flowy skirts, wide-leg pants, simple tees, turtlenecks, cocoon coats, flats, heels, oversized sunglasses, Hermès scarves, and the Gucci saddlebag in leather and canvas.

The luxe hobo-style handbag was first introduced in 1961 as the “G1244” before Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele revamped it in 2020 as the “Jackie 1961.” While the new style retained the same shape as the original, it now comes in a smaller size and has more vivid color options as opposed to the neutral shades Jackie herself touted. The rename of the bag shows the endurance of Jackie’s style, of which Valentino said, “Few women in history have captured the imagination the way she did.”


Grace Kelly, Hermès Kelly

Grace Kelly saw the sac à dépêches for the first time on the set of Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief in 1954, when the handbag was a prop in the film. Princess Grace of Monaco and the bag have since become associated with each other. Hermès officially renamed the sac à dépêches to Kelly in 1977. Similar to its high-profile younger sister, the Birkin, meticulous artisans create each Kelly bag by hand in Hermès’ atelier in Paris, France. The carry-on comes in a wide range of colors and sizes featuring a trapezoid body, luxurious leather, metallic hardware, one handle, and a shoulder strap.

Kelly bags command similar resale values as Birkins, making them a closet must-have among handbag collectors. A one-of-a-kind Himalaya Kelly featuring white crocodile skin and palladium hardware sold at Christie’s auction for $206,000 in 2018.


Audrey Hepburn, Louis Vuitton Speedy 25

Even though Audrey Hepburn was the muse of Hubert de Givenchy, who was responsible for her gorgeous outfits in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Sabrina (1954), Hepburn’s favorite handbag came from Louis Vuitton. Introduced in the 1930s, the original version of Hepburn’s beloved bag was a monogrammed 30cm purse used for travel. In 1959, she requested a smaller, handheld version of the bag for everyday use. Renamed the Speedy 25 in reference to its 25cm size, this petite bag became the ultimate Louis Vuitton classic overnight thanks to Hepburn, a legacy that ensues today.


A Thank You to the Designers and Their Muses

When it comes to the most noteworthy designer bags in history, the styles with enduring power usually have a muse behind the moniker. The designers of these distinguished bags have truly memorialized cherished actresses, activists, and members of royal families, whom we have to thank for inspiring some of the iconic bags we love today.


Designer Bag Buyer in Scottsdale-Chandler, AZ

Biltmore Loan and Jewelry understands how valuable these purses are, which is why we pay top dollar for every handbag offered to us for sale. If you own a Birkin, Lady Dior, Jackie 1961, Kelly, Speedy 25, or any other designer bag from the Top 10 Luxury Handbag Brands, you can cash in your investment today. Visit us or complete our online appraisal form to begin the resale process.