Which is your style -- Top 10 greatest 'It' bags

Ten years ago your handbag was just a receptacle for purse and keys. Nowadays it's a fashion statement that says more about you than anything else in your wardrobe. Judy Rumbold casts a quizzical eye over a decade of it-bags and the celebrities who have wielded them

Ten years ago no one made a lot of noise about handbags. They were simply humdrum accessories, along with shoes and jewellery, that added the finishing touches to clothes. They were practical, functional and not at all sexy. How things have changed. Due to clever marketing, celebrity endorsement and, it seems, feverish acquisitiveness on a monstrous scale, the world has gone mad for bags. The more the better. One for every outfit. In every colour and size and myriad combinations of pulse-quickening studs, tassels, quilting and hardware. Now bags are cult items, must-have accessories for which ordinarily sensible women will submit to all sorts of indignities - interminable waiting-lists, unseemly bidding wars on eBay, hissy fits in department-store handbag departments. All because they saw Sienna Miller carrying it in Heat. Is there a woman alive who isn't infected by it-bag fever? Is there a man alive who has the faintest idea why handbags suddenly cost a month's salary? And it all started a decade ago with one little bag from Fendi…

Hermes 'Birkin'

"It's not a bag: it's a fucking Birkin!" shrieks Samantha, in Sex and the City, when she attempts to use Lucy Liu's name to move up the legendary Hermes Birkin waiting list. What she means is this isn't a bag it's the ultimate fashion status symbol. The Birkin has been called the ‘perfect' bag, i.e. once you get one you never want another. Er, is that handbag or Birkin? Victoria Beckham is rather fabulously rumoured to have a room full in every colour. Traditionally low in supply and high in demand you have to wait eight months to six-years for one of these. The story goes, the actress Jane Birkin sat next to Hermes chief exec Jean-Louis Dumas on a Paris to London flight in 1984 and was whinging on about how she couldn't find a decent, chic, weekend bag. He obliged and put her name to it. A tip: try the Hermes cancellation list or eBay, where Michael Tonello, author of Bringing Home The Birkin, famously sold them and made his fortune.

Fendi Baguette

Arguably the first real ‘it bag', the hype and furore surrounding this was it's price tag - upwards of £1,000 - and the fact it came in the handbag equivalent of a size ‘0'. Created in 1998 the idea behind the Baguette, according to it's creator, Silvia Venturini Fendi, was that each one was a mini piece of art that would jazz up any outfit. Ideal for the busy, modern, RICH, woman who couldn't rush home to change in the evenings. It proved irresistible arm candy, coming in any colour leather and fabric, including exotic skins (lizard, crocodile and mink), sometimes patchworked together and woven with gold thread and festooned with diamonds. Despite the fact it just about fits keys, lipstick and a couple of credit cards, the Baguette continues to sell out. But hey, practicality wasn't, isn't and never will be a selling point of an iconic bag. Although, interestingly enough, it's baby sister, the Croissant, failed to bleep on the fashion radar.

Dior Saddle

What can we say about this other than it's inspired by a horse's saddle, incorporates a stirrup, buckle, bit, rivets, a giant metal ‘D' and various jangly spurs and horsy bits, oh and it's completely revolutionized bag shapes. This kick-started the trend for weighty handbag embellishment and proved particularly popular with fashionable equestrianistas, and of course Chingford Chavs and Far Eastern ladies, who love a little bag with a lot going on. It's much easier to sell bags than clothes and much harder to rip-off a fiercely copyrighted bag in the shape of a saddle. You do the maths. Dior Saddles come in anything from exotic python or alligator to French toile du jour and are reliably expensive. Launched in 2000, last year, John Galliano celebrated a decade at the helm of Christian Dior with a highly collectable limited edition, further demonstrating the commercial genius behind the French fashion powerhouse. Ride on.

Balenciaga Lariat

In 2001, the year Gucci Group (PPR) acquired Balenciaga, the motorcycle-inspired Lariat roared onto the fashion scene. Designer, Nicholas Ghesquière poured his heart and soul into this, distilling his unique vision - Sci-Fi robot, organic forms, 1980's New Romantics, biker girl chic, French classicism - into a distressed leather, inky blue, squishy tote with tassles, zips and rivets. He then dispatched the first thirty to chums, (Kate Moss, Sienna Miller, Chloë Sevigny, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Carine Roitfeld), a process known in marketing as ‘seeding'. Happily all these women were "social sparks", in other words instigators, originators and reliable trendsetters, who unanimously gave the Lariat the thumbs-up. No wonder, this has a louche, casual MOD (model-off-duty) look about it whilst being fashionably on trend. Along with skinny trousers and a blouson jacket, it remains part of the Balenciaga ‘look'.

Luella Gisele

This bag established the trend for ensuring exclusivity and heightening the buzz by giving bags their own names. Not plebby names like Tracy and Pat, but aspirational or iconic names. The Tod's Lady Di tote and Gucci's Jackie bag were earlier forerunners. The Gisele, named after the model Gisele Bündchen, is festooned with more fancy bridlery than a prancing show pony. Fabulous to look at but - and I speak as an owner here - a pig to use. Takes an age to get in and out of. People in Post Office queues hate you. Still, when has practicality ever been the key selling point of an it-bag? Women want it-bags for lots of different reasons, very few of them to do with having enough room to stash a spare nappy and a Thermos. Women want fashionable bags because they impart status, because they can render a boring outfit instantly fabulous and because they allow entry-level access to a designer name whose clothes they might never be able to afford. When guilt strikes at the £500-plus price tag, women can comfort themselves with this thought: bags are democratic and inclusive. They transcend tricky divisions to do with weight, age and social status. In short, bags are not just for skinny bitches. There is no such thing as a size-zero bag.

Louis Vuitton Monogram Multicolore

Is it art or is it fashion? It's in fact a bag which costs the same as a small car and apart from the handles isn't even made of leather. After Murakami's spring/summer 2003 catwalk debut, the rumour goes phone lines at Louis Vuitton were jammed with orders. It took several shipments of the bags to even make it into stores because of pre-orders. Art-lover Marc Jacobs is credited with bringing onboard the pop-artist, Takashi Murakami (a sort of Japanese version of Jeff Koons, most famous for his cartoony paintings and sculptures created from inflatable balloons), to spruce up the most-copied, most covetable bags in the world. Bet he's glad. The very recognizable Mulitcolore (each one features 33 bright and jolly shades) might have Georges Vuitton (son of Louis) who ironically invented the LV logo in order to PREVENT copies, spinning in his grave, but it has provided the French brand with yet another iconic pattern.

Mulberry Roxanne

Known to devotees as the Roxy, this baby ticked all the right it-bag boxes. It had pockets, buckles and more studs than a porn shoot at the Hefner mansion. It cost £595, but in a sea of silly bags it was seen as the epitome of grown-up practicality. Not for the first time retailers used engineered scarcity to create waiting-list hysteria in order to elevate a bag's covetability. Mulberry states that leather goods now account for more than 80 per cent of its profits, and the same goes for most labels. Bags are much easier to sell than clothes, the profit margins are huge and manufacturers don't have to bother with the tedious issue of sizing. Women have fallen hook, line and sinker for the notion that it is vital to acquire a 'wardrobe' of bags for all occasions. You may be clothed head to toe in Primark, but you'll still cut it as fashion-savvy dresser if you're shouldering the right bag.

Chloé Paddington

With designer clothes becoming so accessible and copied, Chloe came up with the idea of creating a limited edition bag that, as well as costing well over the average monthly salary, would make a woman feel part of an exclusive, trendy ‘club'. This particular ‘it bag' with it's distinctive, laughably oversized clunking lock, intriguing doctor's bag shape, whiffy leather and renown rarity, gave instant ‘pop star', or ‘rich bitch' status to the lucky owner ("Love the bag. Hate her"). It also rendered any clothes worn with it redundant which proved quite handy for the Sienna Miller's of this world who run the risk of getting ‘papped' merely putting out the milk. At the height of it's fame, in 2005, the Paddington eclipsed all others, and, like the Hermes Birkin and Kelly, is still mostly available to mere mortals by means of a very long waiting list.

Marc Jacobs Stam

Named after the model and actress Jessica Stam, this has the highest profile of any of Marc Jacobs's bags, and at £760 represents a distillation of every popular it-bag detail to date, from its squashy quilted-leather body to its show-offy hardware, huge fastenings and heavy gold chain strap. Never let it be said that Marc Jacobs devotees play safe with colours: peanut and mustard are current bestselling shades. Kate Moss, Scarlett Johansson and Dita Von Teese are fans. This was the year a Mintel report stated that British women spend £350 million a year on bags, with sales up 146 per cent on the previous five years. And handbags have become the fastest growing sector of the luxury fashion market.

YSL Muse

The YSL Muse ticks all the boxes of a bonafide ‘it' bag. It's pretty much always sold out, has been spotted slung over the shoulder of Naomi Watts, Jennifer Lopez, Kate Moss, Jessica Alba, La Lohan and countless WWM celebrities (women who matter). It costs over a grand and is distinguishable from any other bag (including countless counterfeit copies). The roomy oval design with it's double zip and big straps is perfectly proportioned and gives the wearer instant class. Whoever said, "a bag is a bag until you slap a logo on" obviously hasn't clapped eyes on the Muse. Launched in 2006 it virtually became an icon overnight and is still popular despite competition from the newly launched, Muse II. Whaddya mean that's only two years? It's a lifetime in bag fashion.

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