The V&A’s new exhibition Bags: Inside Out explores our attachment to our most loved yet functional accessory – from the humble rucksack to the Birkin bag and everything in between. CNC’s Devon Armogeda reviews the exhibition and examines the history, craftsmanship and consumerism of the handbag.
The V&A is hosting Bags: Inside Out until January 16th, 2022, where museum goers have the opportunity to navigate the two-story labyrinth of 300 plus handbag accessories spanning nearly 500 years. The thematic, well-curated, cross-cultural exhibition breaks down the large parameters into three varying sections: Function and Utility, Status and Identity, and lastly Design and Making.
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Function and Utility
The first section observes wonderfully laid out and detailed artefacts which hone characteristics of practicality and functionality, with each piece having a purpose of creation. Winston Churchill’s Dispatch Box from 1921 that he carried throughout World War 1, is battered and rough around the edges; in fact this artefact is one of the few items for men, throughout the entire exhibition. Just opposite and in stark contrast, is French Lemière opera bag and content from 1910, the cream coloured silk exterior foldable box bag, comes with fitted optical glasses, pen and paper, a vanity mirror and matching fan. The juxtaposition and exemplary variation of the artefacts showcases the craftsmanship developed for both social, leisure, and bureaucratic events.
Status and Identity
The second section of the exhibition, Status and Identity, removes the practicality and functionality of the accessory, pushing to the fore the fusion of consumerism and pop culture. On display is the 1997 purple, disco Fendi Baguette Bag popularised by Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and The City, who famously corrected a New York City thug for mislabeling her Italian ‘It Bag’ before being mugged. Just next door is a more measured piece, the original 1894 Hermes Birkin Bag created for Jane Birkin herself, who famously complained that the Hermes Kelly was far too small for comfortable long distance travel and this bag is embossed with the star’s initials ‘JB’ on the front. Status and Identity puts to center stage the ideology of monetary or social status associated with designer bags. Yet these coveted items would be nothing without the beautiful women adorning and marketing the accessories for both leisure and while attending socialite events.
Design and Making
Meander upstairs for the final section, Design and Making, where a large workshop-like table awaits with patterns, hardware accessories, tools for bag construction, and videos, explaining the extensive process of luxury bag production process. On screen, Mulberry explains the development from pattern marking and prototypes development, the creation of a microfiber mock up and the final production in luxury leather and hardware. The entire process spans eighteen months before hitting the stores for customers to critique and view.
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For visitors interested in the significance of bag history, their development and usage, and how these exquisite items were thrust into the limelight; Bags: Inside Out is an excellent opportunity to gain extensive insight.
By Devon Armogeda, BA (Hons) Fashion Communication