The 1980s was the age of conspicuous consumption and marked the rise of the designer brands, clearly identifiable and expensive, consumer icons that inspired obsessive desire. A time where sports influenced high fashion and pockets appeared in handbags for the “must have” pocket calculator and filofax.
No designer handbag was ever more decadent than the 1983 ‘Faberge Egg’ evening bag, which was rhinestone encrusted. In 1988 Donna Karan’s small evening bag that slipped into a tote was advertised as seen in their own right. 1984 Bottega Veneta’s advertising campaign slogan was “When Your Own Initials are Enough”. Karl Langerfield, chief designer of Chanel reworking the 2.55 in washable jersey, rubber and terry cloth. Moschino, launched in 1983, trademark good natured mockery of haute couture which became fashionable itself.
1990s smaller designer bags with giant H and CCs swung all over London, New York and Paris. Jane Shilton continued to provide affordable and well made bags. Smart handbags remained small and shapely, with twisted gilt bracelet handles from Saint Laurent, quilted denim from Chanel and Hermes signature Kelly bag, minaturised and worn around the neck.
British makers emerged in the 1990s in a long tradition of artist craftsman. London’s Bill Amberg’s “small rocket” bag is a great example, with black bridle leather, cast aluminium handles and nickel clamped feet. Anya Hinmarch and Lulu Guinness “House” contributed to the revival of small, feminine handbags. In 1997 milliner Philip Treacy created a collection of sculptured handbags where handbags became art.
Designer handbags were available in a bewildering choice of styles and materials; Luxury evening bags from Paloma Picasso, Nina Ricci, Lacroix, Daniel Swarovski, Herve Leger, Armani and Erickson Beamon. Fendi’s baguette bag, Min Min’s waist bag, beaded one-offs, little Eastern bags and Prada’s flat waist and legs bags of 1999 showed a wild diversity. One of the most decadent and innovative designer handbags of the 1990s was from Karl Lagerfeld, whose ‘2005’ handbag in the shape of a womans’ bottom paid tribute to the ‘2.55’ created by Gabrielle Chanel in 1955; with Polyethylene shell, aluminium frame, in black jersey, tweed or leather, and a shocking “fetishistic” interior with a corset style laced mobile phone holder.