The word purse is originally a term used to describe a pouch that was used to keep coins in and it was originally made from animal skin or animal hide. Nowadays the term purse can mean handbag, clutch bag or minaudiere.
As times changed, so too did fashion and as fashion changed, so to did the accessories people used. Functional became aesthetical as well as practical. But once accessories, specifically the use of purses, began to be used not only to carry things around in but also to make statements, and as signs of status and social order, so began the need of fashion houses to evolve from their humble beginnings into what we have today.
Today's top designer handbags are many and more than just a few stands out. Not only do we have the established old house of almost regal proportions we also have fresh young designers, often working for the big houses, but just as often going solo and believing in their talent and creativity to forge their own name in fashionable circles.
While the word handbag denotes most all handbags the word purse has become used more exclusively to refer to the clutch or minaudiere. So it will be these handbags and the designers thereof that I will focus on here. But don't get me wrong a purse is also a handbag that is bigger than a clutch but smaller than say a tote or a shoulder bag, fortunately designers who focus on purses have so many styles to choose from it's almost an impossible task. We are definitely spoilt for choice.
The most famous and elegant purse designers (in my opinion) today are, in no particular order, as follows:
Diane von Furstenberg
3.1 Phillip Lim
The list is endless but these designers have all got purse ranges out at the moment that are so beautiful and just scream(in a hushed tone, of course) elegance, craftsmanship, style, grace, and understated taste of classic proportions.
In the early times they were made of animal skin always, it was later, possibly in the Victorian times when fashion changed, that the reticule became fashionable. The story of how a women's purse changed from mere purse to handbag was when a certain gentleman took a trip and ordered luggage to be made up specially for his wife, as she had too few things to warrant storing it with the baggage but needed those items close on hand. He did not want her to have a normal carpet bag, that was popular with the lower classes of the time so he had something fashioned for her that became the first piece of women's hand luggage.
It was around the time of the mid 1850's that Louis Vuitton founded his label and in the late 1850's he saw how the baggage of HJ Cave could be stacked and through the functionality of that design he then went on to create his own luggage line which was lightweight and watertight. But while Louis Vuitton was primarily started as a baggage and travel fashion house, the evolution of purse from pigskin was evolving to reticule of the lady and was a direct reflection of time where many of the men went to work and controlled money while ladies, it seemed, only needed their purses to carry in them small items, of which coins were no longer part of their contents much. This of course changed too when stores like Selfridge became popular.
In the 1920s the evolution of the clutch occurred as women started breaking free from the constraints of their times and were stepping out in the evenings. A clutch held all they needed for a night out. In the early 1930s Alfred van Cleef and his uncle Mr. Salamon Arpels founded a company called Van Cleef & Arpels. They invented the minaudiere which is basically a jewelled accessory that can replace the cute clutch purses for an evening look that calls for extreme elegance and style. Today designer purses of this ilk are created often by the same high couture designers that design handbags as well as some high class jewellery stores.
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