Bags: Inside Out - an inspiring exhibition designed to track the humble handbag's past, present and future
When we venture out of our studio, we really have to make it count. Mostly we gravitate to subjects outside of bag design and making, but we had to make an exception in this case for the Bags: Inside Out at the V&A.
After a quick coffee in the stunning, sunny Madejski Garden, we set foot in to the V&A's curious world of bags.
Here a few choice themes that stood out...
Made to Last
The exhibition is sponsored by Mulberry so there is a big emphasis on the importance of the Made to Last mindset - the idea that every piece should be designed to withstand years of wear, to transcend fleeting trends and ideally be built to be repairable so that the bag continues to serve the wearer. Towards the end of the exhibition you can explore the maker's table to view tools, materials and processes up close. This is where the magic happens, and where a Made to Last bag begins to manifest. It's also worth stopping to watch a couple of short videos, including designer Bill Amberg talking through the nuances of leather types and how they behave and wear differently.
Bags of personality
We really enjoyed the section that presents the idea that "this ubiquitous accessory can be considered both as a private possession and a public statement". This plays to the fact that a bag, either through its function or beauty, can say much about the wearer's personality or profession. You'll discover courtiers' money bags from the 1600s, to politicians' wartime document cases, and then bang up to date with flamboyant designs by famous contemporary designers.
The man bag gives way...
Did you know, handbags were for a long time an accessory worn exclusively by men, primarily as a functional item for work or travel? "By the 1880s, handbags had lost their connection with utilitarian travel and gradually became fashionable accessories associated instead with women." This is a key turning point in the history and legend of the handbag, and would have aligned with the growing Victorian era obsession with personal style and self expression. We love the Victorians for their bold, pioneering spirit, and we have them to thank for the prevalence of handbags in our 21st Century society! Long may the love affair continue...
A bag for every occasion
Another intriguing section celebrates specialist bags designed for individual activities and hobbies, and for associated tools or equipment needed for them. For instance, what might an opera bag look and feel like, or what special features would a hunting bag need to possess? It also makes us really interrogate our own bags, to ensure they are totally fit for purpose. Do you have a hobby that requires a special type of bag?
The last thought from the show we will leave you with is this idea of a logo versus anonymity. We have always personally favoured the latter, as well as favouring recessive, understated branding for our own products. We find satisfaction in knowing the small defining details and design DNA that make a design, brand or product. We love the fact that our customers get stopped on the street or on the train by someone who is keen to know where their bag is from. And this creates cult following, a collection of those in the know.
Anyway, we thoroughly recommend a trip to the V&A to see this exhibition if you can find the time.
It's on now until 16th January 2022.