I know women. Give them chains. Women adore chains,” said Gabrielle “Coco” Bonheur Chanel, of the 2.55 bag, featuring a brass chain and leather strap, that she created in 1955. Chains have been associated with Chanel ever since – from the “timeless classic” bag, reimagined by Karl Lagerfeld in the 1980s, to the newer “Boy” bag, launched September 2011 – but recently they have also been used by other labels.
This season chains feature on bags in the collections of many labels, including Stella McCartney, Saint Laurent, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Victoria Beckham, Reed Krakoff, Céline, Asprey, and newcomer Julien David, indicating that Coco’s observations are as prescient as ever.
The chain bag has been a key look for Stella McCartney’s own accessories line since 2009, when she designed her Falabella style, with its slouchy silhouette and all-round braided chain strap fashioned from brass and anthracite aluminium. “This bag is presented every season with a new twist added to the fabric, colour and texture of the Falabella,” says Pam Brady of Browns, adding that this season’s must-have comes in check-print mohair.
Elizabeth Kanfer, senior accessories fashion director at department store Saks Fifth Avenue, says: “As handbags have become more minimalist, so chain straps have become more important as they add an element of shine or polish to an otherwise pared-down handbag.” She says Christian Louboutin, Alexander McQueen, Gucci, and Dolce & Gabbana also feature bags with chain handles in their collections and that mini bags, in particular look great worn across the body with a chain strap. “Chains also have a nice weight to them, they feel great in the hand and they often feel expensive,” she adds.
New York-based luxury retail consultant Robert Burke says chains provide an important “cool”, “tough” detail and have gathered momentum since the trend first took hold for autumn/winter 2012: “In reality, women are not drawn to über-minimal bags, which is one reason why we are currently seeing chains being used as a design element. It fits in with the punk/grunge trend, redolent of the 1990s.”
The Betty bag, a black suede version with a gold chain, was the only bag worn in Hedi Slimane’s debut Saint Laurent catwalk show last October. It first hit stores in January 2013 and has become a permanent piece in the collection, available this season in mini and medium sizes and colours that include ice blue, blush, chalk and red leather.
Accessories designer Katie Hillier was appointed as a consultant at Asprey in April 2012, and one of her many standout designs has been the £7,000 Ritz bag complete with a sterling silver chain. Hilary Lewis, Asprey’s leathergoods and accessories director, who works closely with Hillier, says: “It is very much a jeweller’s type of chain, which emulates a necklace, rather than an accessory-type chain.”
Also launching this season is the quilted lambskin “pillow” bag by French-born designer Julien David. He says that after he won the Andam fashion award in 2012, luxury group LVMH helped put him in touch with a “fantastic” bagmaker in France. “For me bags are all about the craftsmanship, so to find the right people to work with was crucial,” he says, adding that he uses a large, compact, solid chain that comes silver plated or in vintage brass “because it gives the bag strength”.