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)

News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
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

    Solutions Architect - Permanent - London - £70k DOE

    £60000 - £70000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    General Cover Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Great opportunities for Cover...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Maths Teacher

    £110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?