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GK Du Jour: Iconic Designer Bags and the Women Who Inspired Them

Whether they were named after or popularized by the women, these are the stories behind some of the most iconic bags.

It’s no secret designers find inspiration from their muses in certain models, actresses, singers, and, in some cases, royalty. Over the years, the fashion world has seen certain bags cement themselves as some of the most iconic and distinctive to date — frequently thanks in no small part to the style icons who consistently wore them.

On occasion, these women wore the handbags so often that some of the designer labels renamed them in their honor. From Jane Birkin to Princess Diana to Grace Kelly, WWD takes a look at some of the women behind the most iconic designer bags. Scroll on for more.

Jane Birkin for the Hermès Birkin

Photo Credit: Stephane Feugere / WWD

Jane Birkin and her Birkin bag.

Though the name “Birkin” is steeped in luxury connotations now, in the ’80s, it was simply the name of a world famous It girl: Jane Birkin.

According to Hermès, the multihyphenate star was flying on an Air France flight from Paris to London in 1984 and while speaking to the gentleman next to her, Birkin was “complaining that she couldn’t find a bag suitable for her needs as a young mother.” The man commented that she should have a bag with pockets, to which Birkin replied: “The day Hermès makes one with pockets I will have that.”

Turned out, the man she said that to was Jean-Louis Dumas, then the executive chairman of Hermès. He responded that he worked for Hermès and would make one with pockets for her. Hence, the birth of the now-legendary Birkin bag.

Princess Diana for Christian Dior Lady Dior

Photo Credit: Cherruault / SIPA PRESS

Princess Diana carrying a Lady Dior bag in Birmingham, circa 1996.

Initially called the Chouchou, the ever popular Lady Dior bag was reportedly gifted to Diana, Princess of Wales by Bernadette Chirac, the former first lady of France, while she was visiting Paris in 1995. The princess then apparently continued to wear the bag for the next year, carrying it almost everywhere she went, whether it be a charity event or the coveted Met Gala.

In 1996, Dior officially renamed the Chouchou to the Lady Dior bag in honor of the late princess.

Audrey Hepburn for Louis Vuitton Speedy 25

Photo Credit: Courtesy Private Collection H. De Givenchy

Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy in Paris.

Like Onassis, the Speedy 25 became synonymous with the legendary actress after she was seen and photographed almost everywhere wearing it. The Louis Vuitton Speedy bag came in three different sizes, 30, 35 and 40 centimeters, and was extremely convenient for traveling.

After the success of her hit movie “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Hepburn asked if a smaller, 25 centimeter version of the Speedy could be made so that she could carry it on a daily basis. Thus, the Speedy 25 was born.

To date, the iconic monogrammed bag still remains one of the most popular and sought-after purses for the French label.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis for Gucci Jackie

Photo Credit: Fairchild Archive / Penske Media

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wearing a black dress, sunglasses, and the Gucci “Jackie” handbag in New York on Sept. 18, 1968.

Gucci’s now-Jackie bag was initially called the Fifties Constance. Going into the ‘70s, Onassis had continued her streak of being a style icon as she became a socialite and book editor, wearing her Fifties Constance everywhere, which made the hobo bag extremely popular and synonymous with the former first lady.

The bag made a comeback during Tom Ford’s tenure at the luxury Italian fashion house in the ‘90s, and again during Frida Giannini’s.

The label’s current creative director, Alessandro Michele, brought back the bag once again during Gucci’s fall 2021 show, with a more contemporary twist. The Jackie bag now comes in various colorways and has been seen on the likes of Harry Styles, Elle Fanning and Cate Blanchett, proving its timelessness and versatility.

Ricky Lauren for Ralph Lauren Ricky Bag

Photo Credit: Nick Machalaba / WWD Archive

Ralph and Ricky Lauren in 1974.

It’s only natural to find a muse in your own wife, which is what Ralph Lauren did when it came to designing his Ricky bag. The purse was introduced into the designer’s permanent collection in 2005, inspired by his wife Ricky’s classic and equestrian chic style.

Lauren wed Ricky Ann Loew-Beer in December 1964. They share three children, sons Andrew and David and daughter Dylan, and remain happily married.

Lauren wed Ricky Ann Loew-Beer in December 1964. They share three children, sons Andrew and David and daughter Dylan, and remain happily married.

Grace Kelly for Hermès Kelly

Photo Credit: Popperfoto / Getty Images

Grace Kelly holds what would become the Kelly bag, in 1959, seen with Philadelphia surgeon James Lehman.

The famous actress-turned princess was known to carry her now-namesake Hermès bag before the label even named it after her.

Kelly, who married into the Monegasque royal family in 1956, was reportedly first seen carrying the Kelly bag when she was filming Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief.” Hitchcock reportedly allowed the costume designer, Edith Head, to work with the French label for the movie.

After her wedding to Prince Rainier III, Kelly apparently used the bag often during outings to hide her baby bump from photographers. In 1977, Hermès renamed the bag to the Hermès Kelly bag.

Sophia Loren for Salvatore Ferragamo Sofia

Photo Credit: Farabo La Foto

Sophia Loren in Rome in 1966.

Italian actress and style icon Sophia Loren was known to be close to Ferragamo. Though many stars loved the designer’s creations, including Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, Loren was a loyal customer to the label over the years, known to wear his custom heels.

When Ferragamo passed away in 1960, his family took over the business. In 2009, they launched the Sofia bag in honor of Loren and her continued loyalty to the luxury fashion house.

Read more at WWD.



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