One of the oldest and iconic handbag makers, Chanel, is the brainchild of Coco Chanel who launched her brand in 1909 – in Paris, France.
History and Background
Coco Chanel is one of the most recognizable and influential icons of fashion history. Born Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel in France in 1883, Coco did not become a household name until the 1920’s. Then again, it wasn’t until the 1950’s that Chanel reinvented her brand with a flawless purse that is classic and crucial to this day.
The first fashion house under the Chanel name opened in 1910 on the Rue Cambon in Paris. At this time Coco was creating hats for women, and was just beginning to establish herself as a designer.
After this first success, Chanel opened more stores and broadened her business to incorporate clothing. Famously, in 1921, Chanel heralded her first perfume. Chanel No. 5 was the first fragrance named after an individual, and has become one of the most iconic perfumes in the world.
Coco Chanel maintained success with her perfume and clothing line through the first part of the 1900’s. But with the start of the second World War the business started a downward slide. An over-the-shoulder handbag would turn all of that around for the Chanel brand.
Reinventing the Brand
After falling off the map for several years amidst world wars, Coco Chanel made her comeback in the fashion world in 1955.
Always fond of small bags, Coco preferred chic clutches, but abhorred the inconvenience of holding the bag. In the 1920’s, Coco solved her problem by adding a shoulder strap to one of her purses. Some believe she was a pioneer of the over-the-shoulder handbag that allowed women to still use their hands. But her own foray into purse production was still several years away.
Declared as one of the most famous and recognizable handbags to ever grace women’s shoulders is known simply as the 2.55 bag. Named after the month and year it was introduced, the 2.55 bag made its debut in February of 1955.
The 2.55 Bag
Adding to her iconic accolades, the 2.55 bag is a classic accessory. A petite handbag, generally in leather, with a long shoulder chain and chic closing flap.
The original 2.55’s were crafted out of genuine leather with a quilted aesthetic. This adds texture and stitching detail to both the front flap of the bag and the body. Over the years the bag has been constructed out of lambskin leather, crinkled calfskin, and patent leather, to name a few.
The front flap of the original 2.55 bags close with a simple Mademoiselle lock, that is allegedly so named because Coco remained unmarried throughout her life. The iconic interlocking C’s were not introduced to the brand until 1981 by head designer Karl Lagerfeld.
The 2.55 bag also features a chain shoulder strap that is reminiscent of soldier’s bags. The chain is feminine and is designated in different drop lengths based on the size of the bag. Chains that incorporate a leather strap have become popular but did not come into production until later years.
In keeping with Chanel’s mysterious yet magical accents to her handbags, the inside of the original 2.55 bag is a burgundy leather lining. The rumor here as to why the lining is specifically burgundy relates to a convent that Coco grew up in. Coco Chanel wore a burgundy uniform as a child, and these supposedly inspired the same color interior in her 2.55 bag.
Purses on Purses
While the 2.55 found immediate and lasting popularity, Coco Chanel did not stop there. The 2.55 bag was created in several sizes, and led to the production of various other high end purses for purchase.
The original 2.55 flap bag is produced in 6 sizes: the Mini, New Mini, Small, Medium, Jumbo, and the Maxi. The Mini is a petite 6.5 inches long, 2.5 inches wide and 5.5 inches tall, while the Maxi is an impressive 13 inches long, 4 inches wide and 9 inches tall. Each flap bag now features the interlocking Chanel C’s, but can incorporate various chain shoulder straps.
Karl Lagerfeld officially became the head designer and artistic director of Chanel in 1983 and began to slowly diversify Chanel’s handbags. Up until the 1980’s the 2.55 bag was created with a single flap closure. Lagerfeld was the first to introduce the Double Flap for the 2.55 bag, in which there is an interior compartment other than the open interior. Single flap 2.55 are now discontinued and double flap bags rule the Chanel market.
The 2.55 Reissue was another brainchild of Lagerfeld. In February of 2005, Lagerfeld celebrated the 50 year anniversary of Coco Chanel’s first handbag by producing a bag with it’s exact likeness, down to the Mademoiselle Lock.
Since the induction of the 2.55 bag, the Chanel handbag line has grown to include other luxury quilted pieces. A couple notable items include the Boy bag, the Grand Shopping Tote, the Cambon Ligne, and the WOC (Wallet-on-Chain). These bags often feature the quilted stitching and chain shoulder straps quintessential to Chanel style.
The Test of Time
From modest beginnings, Coco Chanel made a worldwide luxury brand of herself over the course of the 20th century. Starting with women’s hats and branching out to all things feminine, Chanel now produces high-fashion clothing, elegant perfume, and chic accessories.
The 2.55 bag is now one of the most recognizable and sought after handbags in the world. But to fit in with affluent, classic flap bags in various fabrics can set you back several thousands dollars. Small Boy flap bags can start in the $2,000.00 USD range, while large printed flap bags can cost over $6,000.00 USD.
Used Chanel handbags can be found on many websites, including eBay and Tradesy, but they don’t always offer a cheaper price point. Chanel bags are consistently classic and wear extremely well, and this helps to maintain their value. Therefore, you can feel very confident in your purse when purchasing one of the most famous bags in the world.
Before ever creating a purse, a little black dress, or a hat, Chanel was a singer in Parisian Cafes.
Coco Chanel never married, but had several rumored love affairs with the likes of Boy Capel, an English Polo Player and the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich of Russia.