June 27, 2014 5:45 pm

Lulu Guinness’s spy-camera handbag

The hidden photography capabilities secreted inside a designer bag

The selfie and the street-style snap have taken the fashion world by storm but now there’s a new way to document the world and its wardrobe: the spy-cam handbag.

Two decades ago I went to a Spy Master shop in Kensington to view surveillance gadgets, including a camera hidden in giant spectacles. Few self-respecting spies would have wanted to be seen dead using them. Or rather, they would be dead using them.

The world has moved on. Now comes an attempt from Autographer to create the “world’s first intelligent, wearable camera”. Aided by sensors, an “accelerometer” (speedometer) and a temperature gauge, it takes pictures automatically – up to 200 an hour.

Caroline Daniel with a Lulu Guinness handbag

Caroline Daniel with a Lulu Guinness handbag

The small black plastic camera fits neatly into a bag. Or rather into a particular bag, designed by Lulu Guinness, with a special pocket inside for the camera. The camera lens becomes the “eyeball” of a stylised cartoon eye.

If not quite a spy camera for the fashion-conscious, it comes close. Aware of potential for misuse, it contains advice on “Autographing” etiquette. “Pause your image capture if you are in close proximity to people you don’t know for a long period of time – for example, if you are seated opposite someone at an event or on a packed commuter train.”

I try out the bag at the Cartier Cup, a polo event that attracts society photographers for its celebrity guests, including the Queen. I warn my guest, Charles Lewington, founder of Hanover Communications, that I am working under cover. I nod significantly at my bag.

My first mistake is not reading the instructions fully. Experimenting in my office, I capture the worst imaginable pictures of my nose. The controls are baffling. I fiddle with it, trying to work out whether it is “on” or not. On arrival at the Cartier marquee, I spy guests, such as a woman from Grazia sporting a Moschino McDonald’s fries iPhone cover. I sidle past, trying to keep my bag facing her, before rotating myself 360 degrees to capture the full scene, while trying to grab a glass of champagne.

I’m sure the whole point of a bag camera, constantly clicking away (although it does so silently), is that it frees your hands but I’m taking iPhone snaps as well for comparison purposes.

A shot taken with the bag

A shot taken with the bag

When I get home, I try to download the results to show my friend. I cannot find them anywhere under “data”. I finally discover them under a different setting. My worst fears are realised: there are dozens of shots of people’s midriffs and one of a man pinching his partner’s bottom (thankfully, with heads cut off, they cannot be identified). A midriff view with a fish eye lens is not the most flattering camera angle.

My iPhone photographs turn out significantly better. I would use the Autographer again but only after a more forensic reading of its instructions.

At lunch I talk to Kristin Davis from Sex and the City, in London for the stage version of Fatal Attraction. A guest comes up to take her photograph. Her friend intervenes. “Not over lunch, please.” Thankfully, my bag is at my feet, its spying eyeball switched off.

Caroline Daniel is the editor of FT Weekend

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