The Most Iconic Handbags

Discover the most iconic handbags in the world. Here, we delve into their history, craftsmanship, and what makes them so special and timeless.

The Most Iconic Handbags
The Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags

What makes a handbag iconic? To answer this question, we asked industry experts to share their thoughts on some of the most iconic handbags, from the Hermès Birkin and Kelly bags to the Chanel 11.12. The resounding answer was that, despite frequently changing handbag trends, these styles will always remain at the top. It doesn’t matter what shiny new handbag shows up on the shelves because we’ll always fall back on the covetable “it” bags. There are even some modern designs that have quickly gained icon status and have the potential to become enduring classics. 

A key quality of iconic handbags is that their appearances never change dramatically. Brands release updated and limited-edition versions of iconic designs featuring different colorways and materials, but the silhouette remains unchanged. Because their outlines are etched into our brains, we immediately recognize iconic handbags when we see them. And that familiarity provides us with a sense of comfort and deep appreciation. What’s more, iconic handbags can retain, and sometimes, even appreciate. That means even if you have a case of buyer’s remorse, you might be able to flip your purchase by reselling it. In some cases, it also means you can pass an iconic handbag down through generations like an heirloom. Since they’ve already stood the test of time, it’s very likely that they’ll continue to hold their position at the top. 

Here’s our lineup of the most iconic handbags and the reasons why they’re so timeless.

The Most Iconic Handbags

Hermès Birkin

Hermès Birkin bags | The Most Iconic Handbags
Hermès gold Epsom Birkin 25 Sellier with gold hardware and Birkin 25 Himalaya niloticus crocodile with diamond encrusted hardware

The Birkin bag is undoubtedly the most iconic handbag in the fashion world. Jean-Louis Dumas — then artistic director and CEO of Hermès — conceptualized it in 1943 when he noticed British actress and singer Jane Birkin rummaging through her oversize wicker basket on a plane. When she tried placing it in the overhead compartment, all of her belongings spilled out. As Dumas helped her, he joked that she needed a more secure handbag for carrying all her belongings. Birkin then described her vision of the perfect bag, both spacious and stylish, as Dumas sketched away. A year later, Hermès released the first Birkin bag, named after the actress. And today it is one of the most difficult bags to acquire and has an incredibly high resale value. “Everybody wants a Birkin,” says Judy Taylor, President and CEO of Madison Avenue Couture, a reseller that specializes in the highest-quality Hermès handbags.

Hermès designed the Birkin bag to be worn on the wrist or forearm. It has two top handles, a square silhouette, a front-facing lock closure, as well as a lock and set of keys. The Birkin bag has metal feet, called “clou,” so it remains upright even when placed on a surface, and the clou protect the bottom. The main variants for hardware are gold plating or palladium. Inside, it has a large patch pocket and a zip pocket. The price of a classic leather Birkin bag ranges from $10,400 to $12,500 at retail, depending on the size. And it’s nearly impossible to walk into an Hermès boutique and purchase one unless you are a high-spending client. For this reason, many people purchase Birkin bags on the secondhand market, usually at a steep price increase. 

Since its release, Hermès has reinvented this icon in different leathers, exotic skins, and limited-edition designs. Togo leather, a more supple type of calfskin leather, is a popular option because of its vertical grain texture, matte appearance, and scratch resistance, says Taylor. Another prominent leather option is Epsom leather because it is firm and maintains the Birkin’s shape over time, as well as being waterproof and scratch-resistant. According to Lucy Bishop, handbag and fashion specialist at Sotheby’s, “calf leather Hermès bags are a great starting point and staple piece to any collection.” Bishop also tells us that Birkin bags in earth-tone colors are particularly covetable, a fabulous option being the Gold Epsom Birkin 25 Sellier Gold Hardware

The Birkin bag comes in several sizes, each measured in centimeters, and Taylor recommends the Birkin 30 for those who prefer wearing the bag on their forearm and for its timeless size. “The 30 you can wear forever,” she says. “The 25 is now a fashion bag.”

Hermès Kelly

Hermès Kelly | The Most Iconic Handbags
Hermès Etoupe Clemence Kelly 28 Retourne with gold hardware and special order (HSS) Kelly Sellier 25 Craie and Rose Lipstick Epsom with brushed gold hardware

The Kelly bag is another icon at the top, but it wasn’t always called the Kelly. Its first name was the Sac à Dépêches, or “dispatch bag” in French. In 1928, Dumas launched the elegant handbag as a more spacious alternative to the smaller bags that were fashionable at the time. The upper echelons of society quickly adopted this bag upon its release. The luxury house renamed it after Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco, who once shielded herself from the paparazzi using this handbag. 

The Kelly is just as iconic as the Birkin bag, but it stands apart for several reasons. It features a trapezoid shape, a firm structure, and a singular top handle. It has a front-facing lock closure that comes gold-plated or in palladium. And there’s also limited-edition hardware such as white gold. Inside, it has one slot pocket. The Kelly bag comes with a removable shoulder strap, unlike the Birkin, which is strictly a handbag. This strap makes it more versatile since it can be worn on the shoulder or as a crossbody bag. 

It comes in two primary versions: the Sellier and Retourne. The Kelly Sellier has a firmer structure with clean, sharp lines. Whereas the Kelly Retourne is more supple and has a slouched appearance. Lately, Taylor has seen a greater demand for smaller bags. And she says the Kelly 20 and Kelly 25 have stayed the most in-demand sizes, but only the latter is large enough to fit a phone. Depending on the size, the price of a classic leather Kelly bag ranges from $8,700 to $12,000 at retail. And the bag is difficult to acquire in boutiques. 

Hermès has reimagined the Kelly bag a lot over the years, resulting in gorgeous limited editions that are hard to find and, therefore, higher in value. One of the rarest limited-edition Kelly bags is a collaboration with the legendary French designer Jean-Paul Gaultier: the Black Box Feathers So Black Kelly. It features panels of black feathers, black calfbox leather, and black PVD hardware. A more practical, everyday Kelly bag is the Etoupe Clemence Kelly 28 Retourne Gold Hardware, which Bishop says was “designed with an independent woman in mind.” 

Chanel 11.12 

Chanel 11.12 bag
Chanel large Classic handbag in black-grained calfskin and gold-tone metal and Cloudy tie-dye calfskin and gold-tone metal

The Chanel 11.12, also known as the Double or Classic Flap handbag, is a reinterpretation of the iconic 2.55 style designed by Gabrielle Chanel in 1955. The 11.12 retains the same rectangular shape, quilted leather, and gold chain strap as the 2.55. But it features a double C clasp in lieu of the Mademoiselle lock — the bag’s original square twisting closure. 

Karl Lagerfeld designed the 11.12 in 1983 with a focus on the functional elements of the 2.55. It has seven pockets in total, most notably including an outer pocket providing easy access to small change. This was the first bag to showcase Lagerfeld’s creation of the double C motif which has since become an icon in and of itself. The double C is also overstitched onto the fold of the internal leather flap, concealing the internal pockets. The 11.12 was originally made of lambskin leather. But it is now also available in the brand’s signature caviar leather and tweed fabric in various colors. These bags generally have a gold- or silver-tone metal chain, but it depends on the edition. 

Chanel is known for releasing limited-edition 11.12 bags in addition to seasonal variations, featuring exotics, embroidery, and other inventive elements. The large Classic handbag in black-grained calfskin, also called caviar leather, and gold-tone metal is very popular and has certainly earned iconic handbag status. More playful styles include the 11.12 bags in purple and pink tie-dye calfskin and coral-pink lambskin adorned with precious enamel charms. 

The Double Flap bag in the medium size retails for an average of $10,200. It’s a 16%price increase from early 2023, according to Sotheby’s. Chanel representatives have said that the brand has always revised its prices twice a year. But Taylor tells us that “Chanel raised their prices to offset their loss of units after Covid[-19 and] they liked it, so they continued to raise the price.” These price increases will likely make icons like the 11.12 handbag even more exclusive and desirable, as a result. 

Dior Lady Dior

Dior Lady Dior
Christian Dior medium Lady Dior in burgundy Cannage lambskin and small Lady Dior in Rose Des Vents Cannage calfskin embroidered with resin pearls

The Lady Dior handbag was first released in 1995 and later renamed after Diana, the late Princess of Wales. She was the first notable figure to adopt the handbag, gifted to her by Bernadette Chirac, then the First Lady of France. It was designed by Gianfranco Ferré in 1944. It has a boxy silhouette, D-I-O-R charms, and Cannage motif topstitching — the brand’s iconic basket weave pattern inspired by Napoleon III chairs. 

Lady Dior is available in sizes from micro to large. The smaller versions are more evening-appropriate, whereas the large size offers functionality for daywear. A popular Lady Dior is the medium size in black Cannage lambskin. But it also comes in patent and grained leathers, neutral and bright colors. As well as gold, silver, and black-toned hardware. It has a thin, removable shoulder strap, allowing you to pair the bag with another one of the house’s embroidered shoulder straps. Inside the Lady Dior, there is a small zip pocket and a large patch pocket. Among Dior’s limited-edition Lady Dior bags is the stunning Lady Dior Pearl Cannage. It features a gorgeous resin pearl beadwork along the Cannage pattern. The fashion house also started the Dior Lady Art project. Now in its sixth edition, it encourages artists to reinterpret the classic Lady Dior through their own unique lens.

Dior Saddle

Dior Saddle | The Most Iconic Handbags
Christian Dior Saddle bag in taupe and blue Dior oblique embroidery

John Galliano launched the Saddle bag in 1999 as part of Dior’s Spring/Summer 2000 collection. It is easily recognizable for its saddle-shaped silhouette, tight-fitting shoulder strap, and D-shaped stirrup clasp. While it seems odd that a bag modeled after a piece of horseback riding equipment would become such an iconic accessory, its novelty is partly responsible for why it has remained so popular through the years.     

The Dior Saddle bag has a small interior zip pocket and an outer back pocket. And the D stirrup clasp is on a magnetic strap to protect your belongings from falling out. Even if you don’t have a profile view of a person wearing the bag, you can easily recognize a Dior Saddle from the CD signature on either side of its shoulder strap. The type of hardware can change depending on the edition, as well as the bag’s material and color. A popular Dior Saddle features the house’s embroidered oblique motif in blue, antique gold-finish metal. And the option to personalize it with your initials and symbols (at boutiques only).

Fendi Baguette 

Fendi Baguette
Fendi Baguette bag in jacquard FF fabric and purple sequin

Silvia Venturini Fendi, granddaughter of Fendi’s founders, introduced the iconic Baguette bag in 1997. Although Fendi is an Italian brand, she designed this handbag with Parisian style in mind. In particular, it was inspired by the casual way French women carry a loaf of bread under their arms while strutting down the streets of Paris. The bag has a rectangular silhouette, a signature FF clasp, and a short strap. So it fits snugly beneath the underarm. Its front flap hides the internal compartment of the bag which contains a large zip pocket. Whereas vintage versions only have a shoulder strap, you can wear a modern Baguette bag by hand, on the shoulder, or as a crossbody thanks to the detachable strap that comes with newer editions. The shorter strap, which acts as a top handle, is also detachable — making this bag extremely versatile in its fit. 

Fendi famously relaunched the limited-re-edition purple sequin Baguette worn by Sex and the City’s Carrie Bradshaw because it was so beloved, also available as an adorable nano baguette charm. Another popular Baguette is the nappa leather edition. Which features a three-dimensional textured FF motif, available in neutral and bright colors.

Prada Cleo

Prada Cleo | The Most Iconic Handbags
Prada Cleo in brushed leather and satin crystal

The Cleo bag is a reinterpretation of one of Prada’s most iconic designs from the 1990s. The updated version debuted in Prada’s Spring/Summer 2021 collection and has become an icon of the brand ever since. The bag’s architecture features curved lines and a rounded bottom. It has brushed leather and Prada’s iconic triangular logo. The strap is short but long enough to easily sling over the shoulder. The inside features Prada’s classic nylon lining and a small slot pocket. In the short time since its relaunch, the Cleo has grown so popular that the brand has reimagined the silhouette using different materials, neutral colors, and a variety of hardware. The limited-edition Cleo in satin with crystals is a fabulous evening bag. Whereas the Cleo in patent leather can be worn day to night. 

Louis Vuitton Alma

Louis Vuitton Alma
Louis Vuitton Alma BB in Monogram and Monogram vernis leather

The origins of the Alma bag trace back to 1901, when Louis Vuitton released the Steamer bag featuring a trapezoidal silhouette. Reportedly, Coco Chanel commissioned Gaston-Louis Vuitton in 1925 to make her a bespoke bag that was similar to the Steamer but more functional for everyday wear. In 1935, Chanel allowed Louis Vuitton to produce the bag, originally named the Squire, for the public. The compact design of the Squire eventually inspired both the silhouettes of the Champs-Élysées bag, which was discontinued and the iconic Alma bag. 

The Alma bag officially debuted in 1992 and has since become one of Louis Vuitton’s most reinvented silhouettes. It features two top handles, a top zipper closure, a golden padlock and key, and a detachable leather strap. The bag comes in three sizes, from smallest to largest: the Nano Alma, Alma BB, and Alma PM. The most popular edition is the Monogram Alma BB, featuring the house’s signature monogrammed canvas with a natural cowhide leather trim.

Louis Vuitton Speedy

Louis Vuitton Speedy | The Most Iconic Handbags
The Louis Vuittion Speedy Bandoulière 25 in Turtledove and Damier Ebene

Louis Vuitton introduced the Speedy bag in 1930 to accommodate the boom in travel culture of the time. The Speedy, originally the Express, continues to hold its place as the most iconic travel accessory. And is now available in various sizes, materials, and collaborations. The main variant features Louis Vuitton’s monogram, an interlocking L and V with a floral pattern, varying in different kinds of supple leather. It originally came in a 30cm size but is now also available in smaller and larger sizes, from the Speedy BB to the Speedy 40. Audrey Hepburn famously requested a version of the Speedy that would suit her petite frame in 1965, resulting in the Speedy 25. All sizes come with two top handles, a top zipper closure, and the signature padlock. 

One should not confuse the iconic Speedy with the Speedy Bandoulière, which has a streamlined appearance and detachable strap. In 2023, during Paris Fashion Week, Louis Vuitton’s current men’s creative director Pharrell Williams made waves in the industry by sporting the $1 million Millionaire Speedy in yellow crocodile leather with an upside-down version of the house’s monogram in white. 

Gucci Jackie 1961

Gucci Jackie 1961
The Gucci Jackie 1961 in Supreme canvas and black leather

Gucci originally named this iconic bag the Constance and later renamed it after the former First Lady and style icon Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, nicknamed Jackie O. The Italian house launched the bag in 1961. But according to fashion lore, Kennedy Onassis left a Gucci boutique in 1964 after purchasing six versions of the crescent-shaped bag. Along with her bug-eye sunglasses and printed scarves, she was frequently photographed wearing the accessory, putting it on just about everyone’s radar. 

Originally, many regarded this bag for its subtle minimalism, although some modern versions feature the house’s maximalist GG monogram. Previous Gucci creative directors Tom Ford and Frida Giannini tweaked the style in various ways. But in 2020, then creative director Alessandro Michele re-issued the bag to more closely resemble the 1961 version. It has a hobo silhouette, piston-shaped closure, and shoulder strap with a 20.5-inch drop. The interior has a slot pocket, a zipper pocket, and a suede-like microfiber fabric lining. The Jackie 1961 in red ancora leather is especially trendy these days. It elevates just about any outfit with a pop of color.  

Saint Laurent Loulou

Saint Laurent Loulou
Saint Laurent Toy Loulou in quilted leather and Loulou small in quilted suede

In 2017, current creative director Anthony Vaccarello introduced this bag in honor of Loulou de la Falaise, Yves Saint Laurent’s closest friend and muse. The Loulou is a classic flap bag, instantly recognizable by its boxy silhouette, light bronze brass hardware, and iconic quilted chevron pattern. Inside, it has two compartments and an interior zipped pocket.  It also has a sliding chain, transitioning seamlessly between a shoulder and crossbody bag. What really ties this bag together, however, is the chic YSL logo over the magnetic snap tab. The Loulou comes in multiple sizes and colors. As well as playful materials such as velvet, denim, and suede, beyond the original calfskin leather. The Loulou in medium size is a great option for those looking for an iconic handbag with extra space for their belongings. 

Loewe Puzzle

Loewe Puzzle | The Most Iconic Handbags
Loewe small satin calfskin Puzzle bag in Clay Green and Sunflower

Until 2014, when Loewe’s creative director Jonathan Anderson introduced the Puzzle bag, the leather house hadn’t released a new bag silhouette since the 1980s. The brand unveiled the bag at its Spring/Summer 2015 men’s presentation, later incorporating it into its women’s collection. The Puzzle has an origami-like silhouette and highly skilled professionals in Madrid stitch 75 sections of leather together to produce it. It has a padded top handle, adjustable and detachable crossbody strap, and top zip closure. There is a small zip pocket on the back of the bag and a small slot pocket on the inside. 

In the decade since its conception, the Puzzle has earned its status as one of the newer iconic handbags, widely acclaimed for its versatility. You can wear it in five different ways: as a shoulder bag, a crossbody, by the top handle, or as a clutch that expands or folds flat. It comes in five sizes and varies in color and type of leather. The most popular style being the small Puzzle bag in satin calfskin leather

Bottega Veneta Jodie

Bottega Veneta Jodie
Bottega Veneta Mini Jodie in Raintree and white alligator leather

The Jodie is one of Bottega Veneta’s most popular handbags, originally designed in the 1990s. Similar to the Kelly bag, this previously nameless bag was renamed after American actress Jodie Foster following an incident where she used it to shield herself from the paparazzi. The shoulder bag features the use of intrecciato — Bottega Veneta’s distinctive weaving design technique — made of lambskin leather, as well as a signature knot and rounded crescent shape. It has a single compartment with a zip closure. The house offers the iconic handbag in various sizes and colors. And the mini Jodie is the most prominent in recent years.

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