Purses have always been the must-have accessory of fashion-conscious women.
But only a handful have reached iconic status, worn by the rich and famous, coveted by the rest of us and imitated the world over.
Of those, none have as intriguing a story as Chanel’s 2.55 handbag, favoured by the likes of Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana.
The story begins 55 years ago in Paris when French couturier Coco Chanel first debuted her 2.55 handbag in February, 1955, the date after which the purse is named. At the time, it was quite revolutionary, introducing the shoulder strap to women’s purses.
Made of metal chains intertwined with strips of leather, the strap enabled women to carry a purse over their arm, thereby freeing their hands that had previously been occupied holding a purse.
The bag’s now-famous quilted exterior, created by diamond-shaped top stitching, was reportedly inspired by the stained-glass windows of the abbey in the French town where Coco grew up.
Virginie Vincens, Chanel’s public relations director for Canada, explains that there’s a whopping seven pockets inside the purse. “The interior gusseted pockets hold business cards or notebooks,” she says. “There’s the rounded rear pocket, nicknamed the “Mona Lisa Smile,” the little pocket in the middle, designed to hold lipstick, and the zipped pocket inside the flap, which is reserved for money and love notes.”
Word has it that in Coco’s own 2.55, that particular pocket is where she hid love letters from her various lovers.
Today, the 2.55, along with Chanel’s other bags, are made at a production site in a town outside Paris, where a staff of leather craftsmen, engineers and cutters assemble each bag from five lambskins as only the softest part of the skin — the centre portion — is used.
During assembly, “each bag is turned inside out, in keeping with Mademoiselle Chanel’s firm belief in the importance of hidden luxury — the inside should be as good as the outside,” says Vincens. The purse’s burgundy lining was reportedly inspired by the colour of the uniforms at the orphanage where Coco grew up.
Once a bag is assembled, it’s sent to high-tech climatic chambers to test its resistance to varying temperatures, UV rays, tearing and water. Finally, it’s given a tracking sticker and certificate of authenticity.
It’s this remarkable craftsmanship and painstaking attention to detail —about a dozen people spend an average of 18 hours crafting each handbag — that propelled Chanel’s 2.55 to iconic status in the accessories pantheon. It has transcended fashion trends and fads over the past half-century as a timeless classic.
But you better start saving if you want to call a Chanel 2.55 your own. It’ll set you back (gulp) $3,200. But then, you’re buying a little piece of fashion history. Some would say that’s priceless.