Carla Bruni-Sarkozy may be considered one of the best-dressed women in the public eye but in one sartorial respect, at least, she is swimming against the tide. While she continues to channel Jackie Kennedy and cling to her hand-held purse, women around the world are increasingly turning to the hands-free convenience of a shoulder-strap bag. As designer Donna Karan, a pioneer of the cross-body messenger bag who is rarely, if ever, seen with a hand-held, says: “I love anything that keeps my hands free.”
From Louis Vuitton, whose spring runway bags were largely hands-free messenger styles (£2,500), to Tod’s, whose update of its ladylike D Bag includes the addition of a new 35-inch strap (£695), and Proenza Schouler’s now widely imitated PS1 (£1,595) – which debuted in 2008 with a removable and adjustable shoulder strap – brands are emphasising the versatility and comfort that a long-strap bag offers.
As a result of unforeseen demand, Akris designer Albert Kriemler has offered a long-strap variation of his signature “Ai” bag, this time as a $4,400 (£3,000) evening version with a jewel-like chain meant to be worn across the body. British accessories designer Anya Hindmarch has expanded her “Handsfree” collection (prices from £250), introduced last winter, into an entirely new and independent bag category. And Cartier will be launching a saddle bag as part of its Marcello range in June.
Rachel Duffy, accessories buying manager at London’s Selfridges department store, says: “Cross-body and long straps bring an easy versatility that women appreciate – a move away from front-of-body statement accessories of past seasons.” She cites as good examples Lanvin’s long-strap versions, Alexander Wang’s Brenda mini camera bag and the Alexa by Mulberry.
Pierre Hardy, an accessories designer whose signature shape is the long-strapped cross-body bag (£891), agrees. “Because the bag is held from your shoulder, you have more freedom in movement and are not locked in one position. You can touch it, grab it, handle it; it gives you a different attitude and a different way of walking.”
Hermès, pioneers of the “It” bag with its coveted Birkin and Kelly styles, has confirmed that the brand’s strap-centric bags – the Constance (£4,890), Lindy (£3,070) and Jypsiere (£3,720) – have all been doing exceptionally well worldwide.
As a result, this season sees the debut of the Hermès Constance Elan (£4,140), an updated version of its classic ladies-who-lunch bag now equipped with a 58cm strap – the longest strap ever affixed to an Hermès bag. The Jypsiere – often casually referred to as the “messenger Birkin” due to the hardware both bags share – has also been introduced in a 28cm size that falls right to the hipside.
Amy Wechsler, a 40-year-old Manhattan-based dermatologist, recently acquired a 34cm Hermès Jypsiere in charcoal grey to use as her day bag. “I felt as if I was always juggling things,” she said of her previous everyday bag, a large Bottega Veneta Cabat hand-held tote. “I would try to convince myself that I could throw it on my shoulder when I couldn’t.” With the Jypsiere, Wechsler found the long-strap design not only convenient but also devoid of the stigma of carrying around a “mom purse”. The Jypsiere feels young yet practical – which is amazing for something that looks so good,” she says.
Julia Holman, a 51-year-old who works at a private independent school in Chicago, has traded in her oversized single-handle Miu Miu bag for a suede Chrome Hearts bag with fleur-de-lys design ($3,500) that she wears low and close to her hip. “I had always wanted a messenger bag that could hang off my shoulders that was large enough to let me put my school stuff in,” she says. “I’m always carrying something, so it’s liberating.”
Even confirmed tote bag fans such as Birkin aficionado Victoria Beckham have joined the trend. Beckham was spotted carrying Dolce & Gabbana’s new Miss Sicily handbag (price on request) – complete with long detachable strap. Kate Moss, whose first handbag collection for Longchamp was unveiled in January, regularly sports her own black suede Glastonbury long-strapped design (£450).
Roopal Patel, senior accessories market editor for the Neiman Marcus Group, predicts that the long-strap/cross-body bag look will continue to be ubiquitous throughout this season and the next. “Women are going to be able to have two-in-ones: a top handle, and a strap that can be detached. It’s about the evolution and life cycle of a bag.”
But, she cautions, as with everything else in life, there are rules to follow when choosing a new handbag style. “It should be light and supple,” says Patel. “Try it on with and without your coat. It should rest easily and, most importantly, shouldn’t be your third bra strap.”
Men’s bags for work, rest and play time
As women’s handbags become more multi-tasking, the manbag has become ever-more specialised, increasingly meeting a particular need or solving a specific problem, writes Simon Brooke.
Thomas Lyte’s bespoke Hornchurch bag, £1,500, can be specifically designed to accommodate larger laptops. As creative director Paul Brooking says, “I like a laptop with a big screen, but I just couldn’t find a bag with enough space to carry my Macbook Pro and I’m not the only one,” As a result, the brand now offers an 18” x 13” bag in a variety of different leathers with sterling silver fittings.
Then there’s Furla’s Goa range of work/gym bags, designed to eradicate the hassle of carting around a briefcase and a work-out bag (prices from £259), thanks to a section for trainers and T-shirts and another for papers and a laptop.
The increased complications of travel today have created a new genre of men’s bags, with Hermès recently producing an elegant new tie bag (£1,120) that will keep up to six extra long ties neat and tidy thanks to anti-slip rubber hangers and leather straps.
Molton Brown has addressed air travel toiletry issues with the Globe trekker, £79, a carry-on in soft porcini-coloured leather that comes with an internal airport security bag that complies with airport security regulations and contains 10 mini versions of products necessary for a holiday or business trip.
Tanner Krolle has created the Sportsman holdall in leather (£895) or canvas (£595) with a matching “drop in bag”: a slim attaché case with a zip and handles. The size is 28cm x 56cm x 25 cm.
When you land, the bag also doubles as a briefcase: instead of rooting around in your bag, just leave the main section at reception or on the floor next to you, and use the smaller section to hold a pen, notebook and iPhone for instant access.