There's bags of interest in fashion's latest collectable

Handbags are hot once again as classic designs go on show, and on sale, to Nineties accessory fans. By John Windsor

Though blighted as objects of desire by Lady Bracknell and Baroness Thatcher, handbags are making a comeback as collectables. A selling exhibition of 20th-century handbags opens at Grays Antique Market, west London, on Monday: Butler and Wilson, the famous makers of costume jewellery, have added vintage handbags to the stock of their Fulham Road shop - and a guide book, Bags: Icons of Style in the 20th Century, by Claire Wilcox, has just been published by Apple.

Linda Bee, who is mounting the Grays Antique Market exhibition, and who trades in antique jewellery and handbags there, says: "I always grab a beautiful or unusual handbag when I'm off to a fashion show or an art gallery opening. I find they help to break the ice. People come up to me and say, `Where did you get that?' I tell them I deal in them, and give them my card."

One reason why handbags have not entered the mainstream of collecting until now, is that they fall uneasily between manufactured goods that can be catalogued and collected in a complete-the-set way, and hard-to-identify oddities without labels, which are as likely to have been cobbled together in a Continental holiday resort as in an East End sweat-shop. Some handbags are one-offs, made by the fireside. Others are the creation of jewellers such as Cartier, encrusted with gold and gems and worth thousands.

But Wilcox's book succeeds in instilling some coherence into what are, basically, holes enclosed by a bewildering variety of materials in a bewildering variety of shapes.

For a start, there is the designer-name category - Hermes, Gucci, Biba, for example - as distinctive and saleable as fashion clothes by the same names. Expect to pay a going rate of pounds 300 for a handbags with one of these labels. Then there is period fashion appeal - such as Art Nouveau and Art Deco, which happen to be waning in popularity.

The big buzz at the moment is fun Fifties designs. Bee reckons that now that we are heading into recession, fun accessories are in ever greater demand as pick-me-ups. If it's fun that people want, then the Fifties are the decade to turn to.

The bigger the bag, the more outrageous its design is likely to be. By contrast, the tiny and discreet strapless pochette belongs to the Twenties, when rich and elegant ladies, surrounded by servants, needed to carry only a lipstick and a few billets-doux. Some pochettes will not even hold a bunch of keys. They got bigger, evolving into Joan Crawford-style clutch bags, when women began carrying cigarettes and a bigger battery of cosmetics.

Bee, 52, whose father made splendid leather handbags for Ward and Co, the Royal handbag makers, now sells big, colourful, kitsch plastic handbags made in Miami in the Fifties for pounds 75-pounds 250. Her Fifties yellow-plastic beehive handbag, with three bees embedded in the top, was one of her best finds. Handbag cognoscenti will pay up to pounds 500 for one. As for her early-Fifties floppy Belgian poodle bags with zip-up tummy - they have sold for pounds 1,000. Butler and Wilson are selling beaded and bakelite Fifties handbags for pounds 238-pounds 398.

But the market is still in its infancy. Novelty bags from the Fifties and Sixties, their value unrecognised, can still be picked up for pence at jumble sales and charity stores, whose middle-aged organisers still think that plastic is cheap and nasty. It may be nasty, but the right stuff is no longer cheap.

Bee's customers tend to go for either Fifties whimsy or big names. That applies especially to the Japanese and the Americans, who also have an eye for early Victorian tapestry and bead bags. In London, she says, her sales to foreigners have dropped off by two-thirds because of the strength of the pound. Prices have not dipped, but at least British buyers now face less competition.

One modern designer who has hit the spot with Fifties-style designs, and is aiming at the collectors' market, is Lulu Guinness. Her flower bags sell mostly in the pounds 200-pounds 300 range. Two collectors' bags for the 1999 season will be in the shops in March - "The Room", a satin bag hand- embroidered to look like an English sitting-room, price pounds 284, and "The Fan", a clutch bag, also hand-embroidered, price pounds 405.

Linda Bee's exhibition, 2 November-24 December, Grays Antique Market, South Molton Lane, London W1 (0171-629 7034); Butler and Wilson, 189 Fulham Road, London SW3 (0171-352 3045), and 20 South Molton Street, London W1 (0171-409 2955); Lulu Guinness, 66 Ledbury Road, London W11 (0171-221 9686); `Bags' by Claire Wilcox, (Apple, pounds 14.99)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

    Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

    £50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

    The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

    £27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas