The Fall 2016 runways were awash in embellished bags, feeding into the trends for decadence and Baroque glamour. From photo-real images to nature-inspired patterns, the embellished clutch and evening bags appeared in collections in myriad forms for Fall 2016, as both sublime objects and as subtle signs of the times.
During a period in which fears over climate change worsened, a menagerie of creatures appeared on the Fall 2016 runways. Charlotte Olympia purses were sketched with feline faces, reminiscent of the brand's renowned flat shoes inscribed with cat eyes, whiskers and snub noses. Dries Van Noten’s Fall 2016 adorned clutches were finished with delicate feathers, creating a nostalgic and feminine effect that nodded towards the anthropomorphic in a subtler way.
This trend tipped into other seasons, too. Clutches in the Thom Browne Resort 2017 womenswear collection were shaped into patent leather ducks, crabs and dogs; outlandish designs that were largely juxtaposed against outfits in understated monochrome shades.
Fashion has always been a form of escapism, and Fall 2016 and beyond followed suit. Alexander McQueen created a surrealist take on folklore for the season, complete with intriguing lambskin bags shaped into eccentric clock faces. The fashion house paired these with a collection of dresses embroidered, printed and appliquéd with levitating butterflies, lips and flowers, and celestial gowns covered in crystals. The collection hinted at a childlike nostalgia that was also witnessed in some of the quirkier fashion seen on the streets throughout 2016.
Dolce & Gabbana completed a show that had been informed by mystical fairy tales, with models holding townhouse-shaped handbags. They also carried embellished bags shaped into miniature Cinderella carriages and glittering chandeliers.
Tapping into an alternative folkloric tradition later on, for SS17, were the embellished clutches by Roberto Cavalli. Fashioned from eye-catching blue leather and suede, these bucket bags were finished with Native American-inspired symbols and icons. While the designer has not hinted that he was influenced by the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s Dakota Access Pipeline protests, his bags serve as reminders of one of 2016’s most powerful news stories.
Floral embellishment is nothing new, but Christopher Kane took staple bridesmaid bags to higher levels with his clutches. His crochet petals harked back to a to the 80s, while totes emblazoned in photo-real botanical images brought these items up to date.
Gucci's Fall 2016 collection featured its distinctive 'Sylvie' line of bags with embroidered roses layered over the top for a striking effect. This dramatic embellished clutch was often seen at the front rows in both Paris and London 2016 fashion weeks but looked best pared down by soft greys and androgynous, oversized ensembles.
Fendi's Fall 2016 collection took florals in a different direction, featuring minuscule black leather evening bags embroidered with striking gypsy-esque flowers in a variety of hues. Emmy Rossum carried a similarly compact Christian Dior purse with her to Paris Fashion Week AW16, but her bag bloomed with neon-edged flowers.
A shock of color
Fendi also embraced kaleidoscopic hues and optical illusions for its bags. Unlike traditional, overtly feminine clutches, the label’s colorful pieces used floral embroidery and undulating excess material to embellish handles as well as the main bodies of its purses.
This focus on straps was also evident in other collections. Louis Vuitton’s monochrome evening clutches received a colorful twist with scarves in exotic prints wound around the handles. In typical extravagance, Anna Dello Russo toted not one but three Fendi bags with her at Paris Fashion Week in 2016. She paired her trio of purses – each one larger and more brightly hued than the the next – with a Schiaparelli fur adorned in sugary pink pom-poms.
80s pop-culture cult figure Pacman adorned Anya Hindmarch purses in Fall 16. The fearful eyes of the ghosts from the iconic pixelated computer game brought irreverence to the designer’s furry clutches.
In another homage, Charlotte Olympia released a collaboration with Mattel’s Barbie in September 2016 in which a pastiche of the dolls accessories – perfumes, lipsticks and pearls – were arranged on top of clutches.
A sample of Chanel’s embellished evening bags for the same season were subtler, arriving in the brand’s characteristic quilted flapover design. Metal interlocking hands making peace signs adorned the fashion house’s classic clutch, providing a humorous update.
As a contrast to the minimalism and androgyny that has categorized fashion collections since 2013, 2016 dripped in excess. While designers continue to turn to accessories to enhance high-octane ensembles even further – and to make gestures that tie in with the world at large – the trend for embellished bags is going nowhere.