Exactly how big does an everyday bag really need to be? Statement bags playing with extremes of scale have dominated for some time and, indeed, are still represented on the catwalks this season – from Victoria Beckham’s felted-wool Duvet shoppers (£590), so absurdly large that they dwarfed the models carrying them (and led the designer to joke about hauling around her own children in them), to comically compact palm-sized bags (from £193) by Jacquemus that would make beautiful vessels for ferrying about a lip balm but not much else. Yet in keeping with a distinct “reality dressing” mood in ready-to-wear, the most attractive shoulder bags emerging right now are a much more balanced affair: perfectly proportioned and pragmatic.
While these desirable new designs tend towards understatement and classic appeal, they pack a punch: with their minimalist shapes, alluring autumnal shades and subtle, beautifully crafted detailing, they are easily as covetable as they are practical. Many are a touch nostalgic too: curvaceous saddle and bucket bag shapes, in particular, echo the glamorous shoulder bags of the late 1970s and early 1980s – yet these new understated styles in the most beautiful leathers that will only improve with age are ready-made classics that will hold their own for years.
Jonathan Anderson has added his striking signature details (ring and pin hardware and lacing) to sumptuous saddle bags (£1,180) in ash, tan or khaki leather and there are similarly practical shapes in his collection for Loewe, including beautiful soft leather bags (£1,725) with gold hardware and the brand’s subtle embossed logo.
At Mulberry, Johnny Coca takes a similarly understated but arresting approach. His chic new Leighton bag (£1,195) – in a smooth, sandy-beige calfskin – has an equestrian-inspired brass lock and can be worn with a short chain or a longer leather strap. The calfskin Amberley satchel (£995) echoes the Leighton’s timeless feel: inspired by the English countryside, with its saddle bag shape and brass “riders” lock, it can be worn as a shoulder bag or crossbody. (For those who prefer a colour hit, it comes in some dazzling shades, too, including fuchsia and primrose pink – or with contrasting perforated dots.)
Maria Grazia Chiuri has resurrected the Dior Saddle bag (£1,850), John Galliano’s original It bag for the house, which was first launched in 2000 when it-bag mania was at its peak and is described by Chiuri as an “icon of the house’s recent history”. It comes in many iterations, but the beautifully crafted all-leather versions – in deep tan, red or black – channel the subtle spirit of the season.
Despite their immediately obvious new-classic credentials, some of these shoulder bags strike an “of the moment” chord too. At Chloé, Natacha Ramsay-Levi continues her major reboot of the brand with the introduction of the Tess (£1,395), a beautiful leather saddle bag with an oversized gold ring clasp – perfect for hooking the occasional charm onto – and wide shoulder strap. The larger size, an ideal everyday companion, comes in tan, chocolate or oxblood calfskin and suede, and looked immensely stylish on the catwalk paired with long-sleeved silk midi dresses in earthy or rusty tones, as well as floral-print jumpsuits oozing sensual swagger.
Eleanor Robinson, accessories director at Selfridges, has noted a shift at luxury labels like Chloé: “Some brands traditionally known for their It bags have started developing classic bags like the Tess, which are much more understated and very wearable.” She also points to the Day Faye (from £1,415) – a more functional shoulder bag with a zip top that’s available in shades including dark ochre and earthy red. “You can fit a book, an iPad, phone, all the bits and bobs that you may need to carry around, but it still has that saddle bag shape and a slouchy feel,” she adds.
Givenchy’s sumptuous fringed bucket bag (£2,090) in aubergine leather and suede and Valentino Garavani’s supple new Bloomy bag (£1,775) – best in a gorgeous burgundy – also have a function-forward approach, with just the right amount of room for the day’s essentials.
Robinson also points to the razor-sharp focus on craft and quality that often goes hand-in-hand with more restrained “classic” designs. The Row’s new Hobo bag (£3,900) – one of the slouchiest styles in this new club, in a dark khaki or lovely buttery-cream saddle leather – or the espresso Equestrian bag (£2,258) in a gorgeous soft-grain leather, are a case in point, she says. “They are so beautifully constructed, made from one piece of leather – and the brand can tell you where it came from. If you are going to invest that much money you want to know that a bag will not only last but, increasingly, customers are interested to know that it has been made in a responsible way – they are more questioning than ever before.”
Alongside the super-luxe examples from high-fashion houses, a wave of newer contemporary bag labels has stripped back surface decoration to focus on something more anonymous, giving momentum to the pendulum swing in appetites from idiosyncratic showstoppers to perfectly pitched minimalism. The rapid success of brands such as Mansur Gavriel in New York, Amsterdam-based Wandler or London’s Sophie Hulme speaks volumes about many women’s desire for something beautiful, pragmatic and timeless. In the absence of flashy logos or ornate detailing, these bags are harder to pinpoint, and the result is a cool and chic in-the-know attitude.
Elza Wandler’s eponymous collection of supremely understated Italian-crafted bags launched last year and she now counts Net-a-Porter, Matchesfashion.com and Browns among her stockists; her bestselling Hortensia bag (£655) is super‑chic – a masterclass in minimalism. At Selfridges, brands launched within the past few years are gaining as much traction as the much more identifiable styles from super-brands. These include modernist Yuzefi – which has recently introduced its stunning, handcrafted calfskin Biggy bag (£495), with an adjustable wide strap – and Staud, which made its name with brilliantly simple classic-with-a-twist bucket bags (£290).
Sophie Hulme, who opened her first London flagship store on Marylebone’s Chiltern Street earlier this year, has carved out a niche for her thoughtfully designed, beautifully crafted and logo-less bags. Quiet luxury has been her stock in trade since she launched her first design, the Albion tote, a decade ago with the aim to “create considered, beautiful bags that are made for life – in every sense of the phrase”. This autumn, her beautiful large swing bag (£695) – in raspberry red, forest green or charcoal – perfectly encapsulates the pragmatic, elegant and timeless approach. “I think there is a growing number of women who desire longevity and understated bags deliver this – growing with you, rather than tiring quickly,” says Hulme.
That’s an idea we can all get behind – a bag that fits into your life for many years, but shows impeccable restraint in the size department.