The Story of the Iconic Chanel Bag

Mar 31, 2024

We are so excited to introduce you to the stylist, journalist, and author of “The Story of the Chanel Bag,” Laia Farran Graves! Step into the realm of fashion history and witness the remarkable story of the Chanel bag unfold before your eyes. From its inception to the cutting-edge designs of today, this timeless accessory has left an indelible mark on the world of style. Explore its enduring allure and discover the secrets that make it an iconic symbol of elegance and sophistication. To learn all about her new book, “The Story of the Chanel Bag,” check out our Q&A interview below! 

What led you to write this book? 

I have always loved accessories, and when my editor sent me a list of ideas including this book, I jumped at the chance. It was a great project because I got to write, not only about Coco Chanel, her incredible rags to riches story and how she built her brand, but also about her bags and the stories behind them, how they are made, etc. it was so much fun!

How did you go about researching the book? 

I teamed up with my friend Siobhan Trewick from the vintage store who acted as consultant on this book. She is a Chanel authenticator and has an amazing store on the seafront in Brighton, England where I live. She showed me many of her precious pieces and I learned a lot from her. I also had her great contacts such as Emily Abraham from who helped me source specific items. I did a lot of my research online, in the library and by speaking to many of my friends in the industry. 

What surprised you during your research? Did you learn anything new?

Oh my goodness, I learned so much writing this book!  I didn’t realize what a feminist Gabrielle Chanel was and how her first handbag, the iconic 2.55 was the first handbag to be used by women ‘hands free’. I also didn’t know that it was named after the date it was designed, February 1955…and how superstitious she was. The perfume Chanel number 5, for example. was the 5th sample she received and the name was chosen for that reason. 

What are the biggest takeaways you hope people get from the book? 

I felt when writing this book that I really got a real sense of who Gabrielle Chanel was, what it meant to be a woman in business when she launched. How her past influenced her decisions – not just her desire for being self-sufficient but also her aesthetic outlook, her struggles with lovers, and how the Second World War affected her business when she was forced to close the fashion house. 

This book is also a helpful guide if you are looking for a Chanel handbag, with tips of which styles are out there and also how to spot a superfake if you’re shopping in the pre-loved market.

Will you tell us a little about Coco?

She was a fascinating character. She grew up in an orphanage and has a real fighting spirit and sense of determination. She was also fun-loving, and her nickname ‘Coco’ is said to have come from a song she sang in local cabaret clubs when she was young, where she enjoyed performing a repertoire of just two songs: ‘Ko-Ko-Ri-Ko’ and ‘Qui qu’a vu Coco?’

How were her designs different from what was on the market at the time?

They were completely revolutionary, she designed for herself with a focus on comfort and wearability. Although during the First World War women had started to wear trousers and jumpsuits in the workplace, for instance, Coco was the first to offer these as a fashion statement and also to include tailored suits in women’s collections. She was the first to use jersey in her designs (a low-cost alternative at a time of war shortages), and favoured minimal shapes and straight lines – which were completely different to the corsets of the time. 

How did Coco change the course of fashion history? What are some things she made popular?

The introduction of athleisure was key, dating back to styles she sold in her Deauville boutique, which she opened in 1913 – as she herself was a keen sportswoman and wanted to make clothes she could wear. Her bags, of course, also became hugely popular, because they were beautiful as well as useful. Today they are still as relevant and as iconic as when they were first designed. 

What has led to Chanel’s designs standing the test of time?

Coco Chanel was unquestionably ahead of her time, not only did she revolutionize style by adding simplicity to designs for real women to wear, she was also incredibly talented when making them, ensuring the best craftsmanship. In the book, there is a chapter dedicated to how the bags are made. The book explains the process in detail: some bags, as is the case for the 2.55 and the 11.12, are made inside out. Once the material is cut it will be reinforced to give it structure and then stitched together. The complex construction (dubbed the ‘bag-in-a-bag’ technique) then begins with the making of a bag to create the inside and another to make the exterior. They are then held in place, tacked with a stitch known as “points de bride“, and turned inside out using the “piqué retourné” (‘stitch and turn’) technique, a practice Chanel extends into its ready-to-wear fashion lines, and a true testament to the founder’s couturier roots. 

What marketing tips can we get from Coco? 

Coco was great at marketing because she told a story through her chosen symbols and motifs– from camellia flowers to tweed and quilted leather. Decades later, these famous references remain as relevant and instantly recognizable as they were then, and have given the brand continuity and a sense of relevance. This is something Karl Lagerfeld understood and was able to continue when in 1983 he began working for the House. 

How did Coco’s designs empower & advance women? 

I consider Coco to be a feminist, and her focus on independence and comfort when designing reinforces those values. She revolutionized the female silhouette, favouring androgyny and transforming twentieth-century fashion, based on her own personal preferences, including sport. 

What’s your favorite aspect of Chanel bags? 

They are not just decorative, but practical as well. I think the brilliance of the Chanel handbag lies in its simple-yet-functional design, which gives it incredible versatility (taking the wearer from red carpet to school run) making it, arguably, the perfect accessory. 

Which Chanel bag is your favorite?

I love oversized bags, as I tend to throw everything in before I leave the house, but I have to say that the 2.55 is so iconic and such a classic that it has to be my favourite. I also love the stories behind it, and all the pockets it has and their uses. This bag says so much about her, and it really is a little piece of fashion history.

As explained in the book: Showcasing Chanel’s utilitarian nature, the 2.55 has seven pockets, all of which Mademoiselle Chanel designed for her personal use. At the back, on the outside, there is a slightly curved compartment called the Mona Lisa pocket. Apparently,she loved the painting,and the pocket acquired its nickname in the workshops because of its curved shape – like a smile. When quilted, it matches the criss-cross pattern it sits on with absolute precision.This is the pocket where Coco used to keep her loose change – most likely for tipping drivers, doormen or bellboys without having to keep opening the bag. There is also a flat front pocket, and a further five pockets are fitted inside: as you open the bag, you will find two slip pockets on either side of a central lipstick holder, ideal for a compact powder, mirror or eyeshadow palette.Yet another opening sits between the inner flap and the bag, and finally a ‘secret’ zipped compartment is hidden inside the flap: a special pocket that Chanel designed to keep her love letters safe. 

What’s next for you? 

I’m currently working on a very exciting fashion biography, but I can’t reveal any more at this stage…as soon as I can you’ll be the first to know!

Where can people find you? 

I am (finally!) on Instagram (laiafarrangraves), and I’d love your readers to follow me! And on my website

The Style That Binds Us


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