WORDS BY SOPHIE HENDERSON
The ‘90s was a decade defined by its fashion. Preceding all things Y2K, a series of iconic ‘90s looks have paved the way for style revival after revival. From the explosive impact of ‘Sex and the City’ (hello, reboot) to the Jennifer Aniston effect, famed celebrity looks from the decade will be etched into our minds for years to come.
The ‘90s is credited with providing everything from lace slip dresses to strappy kitten heels, but few icons have outlasted the success of ‘90s designer bags. The emergence of the It-Bag was truly underway, and it was common practice for the most anticipated bag launches to command a long waitlist.
How do you know if a bag is vintage?
Whilst the term has no strict definition, a designer bag is mostly considered to be ‘vintage’ when it is over 20 years old. Designer provenance is important here, and it can vary depending on the brand and style.
The trend lends itself to buying pre-owned and pre-loved pieces, and shopping vintage ‘90s bags is a sustainable option that’s kind to the planet. Buying vintage means investing in timeless pieces that are set to be relevant in another 20 years.
What designer bags were popular in the ‘90s?
Whether you’re looking for a tuck-under-your-arm shoulder-purse from the likes of Christian Dior and Céline or a practical Prada nylon backpack, ‘90s bags range from minimal baguette-like designs to intricate and cropped shoulder bags.
In honour of this defiant decade, we’ve rounded up 11 of our favourite vintage ‘90s bags. If you’re keen on securing a collectible original, scroll through to discover our selection of unique pre-owned designer bags. Read up on their history and source your absolute favourite.
The ‘90s was stacked with definitive bag moments, but the FENDI Baguette had a monumental moment in popular culture. Just like its namesake French loaf, this ‘petite pochette’ is small in size but mighty in its impact.
Lending its wares to the iconic TV show ‘Sex and the City’, FENDI has created over 1000 iterations since 1997. We’ve seen artist collaborations with Damien Hirst and Richard Prince to name a few, but the original ‘90s silhouette holds just as much staying power as the brand’s newest Baguette additions.
Predating the FENDI Baguette, and a diametric opposite, Prada’s nylon journey began with the backpack. Equally iconic and loaded with functionality, Miuccia Prada’s first bag for the family-run house was coveted throughout the ‘90s.
Combining its signature nylon with Saffiano leather, the style is stamped with a discreet triangle logo plaque for identification. Crafted from a material that was previously reserved for the Italian military, Prada nylon ushered in a new era of utilitarian fashion that remains just as relevant today.
The Prada shoulder bag then brought a minimal touch to the cropped ‘90s shape, and we’ve got original vintage mini bags that inspired the recent 2005 Re-Edition.
Always dipping into the past for inspiration, the Triomphe monogram is Céline’s ultimate archival symbol.
Known as the Blazon Chaine, featuring intertwining Cs inspired by the Arc de Triomphe, the Céline Macadam rose to prominence when the brand became an integral part of LVMH in the ‘90s. Complete with a Trapeze body and top handle, the all-over Triomphe print is paired with a signature brown leather trim that falls in line with the brand’s equestrian roots.
Legend has it that in the late 1950s, Grace Kelly, a Hollywood star turned Princess of Monaco, was photographed holding a bag over her stomach to conceal the early signs of a baby bump. Formerly named the Sac à Dépêches, it instantly became known as the Kelly bag.
HERMÈS officially renamed it in 1977, and by the mid-‘90s, the bag’s waitlist was long enough to match any icon status. The signature Trapeze body quickly became one of the most sought-after styles in the world.
Pinks and blues are the most coveted colourways. Shades such as Rose Lipstick, Rose Azalee and Rose Sakura are known for their value, especially in small pieces such as the Kelly Pochette or the Kelly 25. Bleu bags, especially shades such as Bleu Marine and Bleu Saphir, are also highly coveted.
Christian Dior Saddle
Arguably the brightest star in the Christian Dior legacy, the Trotter Saddle Bag, known simply as the Dior Saddle bag, was first introduced in 1999 at the height of John Galliano’s tenure. Bringing its recognisable monogram to an era of logomania, this equestrian-inspired style garnered peak It-bag status.
While there are countless contemporary iterations of the Saddle, the original ‘90s designs remain the most coveted. Bringing with it a sense of nostalgia, find classic colourways, embroidery and recognisable gold-tone hardware across the silhouette.
Said to have left the factory on the day that HERMÈS designer Catherine Chaillet’s fifth child was born, the Constance bag entered the market in 1959. It was named after the designer’s newborn daughter.
A favourite amongst former First Lady of the United States Jacqueline Kennedy, the success of the Constance only continued to amplify in the ‘90s. It can be harder to find than the more well-known Birkin and Kelly. Available in four sizes, all Constance bags are treated and dyed by highly trained artisans in the workshops of Pantin.
Louis Vuitton Monogram
Marc Jacobs began his tenure at Louis Vuitton in 1997, and the Creative Director gave new life to the Maison's monogram. It was introduced to a new demographic of customers through Dapper Dan’s infamous Harlem knockoff business before Jacobs brought a newfound logomania to the historic house.
Vintage Louis Vuitton bags range from the Monogram Canvas Alma to the tiny Pochette and Speedy. The iconic Montsouris backpack takes its name from Parc Montsouris, one of the largest green spaces in Paris.
The new Monogram Vernis collection was popular amongst the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss, which paved the way for Takashi Murakami’s early ‘00s collaborations. Multicoloured logos and characters were met with cherry print and denim across mini shoulder bags.
There are few elements in the history of designer bags as inventive as the curved handles of Gucci Bamboo. World War II was still in its final stages when the collection was released in 1947, and artisans at Gucci were pressured to find materials that weren’t subject to restriction.
Craftsmanship is at its core. Softened and processed by hand over an open flame to manipulate the material, the handle is coated in multiple layers of varnish. It is roasted to achieve a shiny golden-brown finish which means that no two vintage bags are the same.
Styled right across the early ‘90s, the Gucci Bamboo collection includes Princess Diana’s favourite tote. It was spotted almost everywhere, from public appearances to running errands in her signature athleisure-style uniform.
The mid-to-late ‘90s were peak Zucca-mania. Initially used to line the interiors of FENDI travel trunks, Karl Lagerfeld’s instantly recognisable monogram made its way to ready-to-wear and handbags. Covering everything from the Baguette to the Zucchino vintage shoulder bag, the brand's signature jacquard canvas is still used right across the FENDI collection today.
Reflecting a new sense of confidence and freedom, Lady Dior is an ode to Princess Diana. Originally named the Chouchou, the bag was made especially for Princess Diana upon her visit to Paris in 1995.
The classic top-handle design was crafted from quilted black leather, adorned with decorative metal Dior lettering and evoking the lucky charms beloved by Christian Dior himself. It became a house icon as a direct result of the Diana effect, and Dior decided to officially release the bag in 1996 and change its name in honour of the Princess.
Prada Bowling Bag
The Prada Bowling bag brought with it a new millennium. A semi-circle design that’s both functional and roomy, the brand launched head-first into the ‘00s with the century’s first-ever It-bag. An entirely different shape, with curved lines and a satisfying streamlined design, the Bowler was Miuccia Prada’s take on the traditional bowling bags of the 1950s and ‘60s.