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Iconic Fashion Accessories of the 21st Century

We take a look at the most iconic fashion accessories to emerge in the last two decades.

By Orla Pentelow |  January 3 2022


©Gucci

Think of timeless designer handbags, and you’ll often think of vintage styles. Not wrong by any means, but a number of iconic fashion accessories have actually made a name for themselves since the turn of the 21st century, reaching the very same iconic status as their predecessors in just two short decades.

Daniel Lee’s short but impactful tenure at Bottega Veneta has reinvented the brand’s DNA in only three years to produce some of the most sought-after cult fashion accessories in recent years, with everyone from influencers, to celebrities, to fashion editors scrambling to get a piece of the luxury house’s hero pieces.

Elsewhere, brands are talking about sustainability more than ever before, so it is no surprise that the industry has its eyes on those making moves in that area. Hermès’s announcement that it would remake a beloved style in mushroom-based leather marked a big moment for the traditional leather goods brand and presents the question: Who else might follow suit in the future?

Here, we take a look at the most iconic fashion accessories to emerge in the last two decades and those that truly stand the test of time, as we look excitedly to the future.

[See also: Feadship Launches Sustainable Clothing Line]

Mulberry, Bayswater

The Bayswater, named after the upmarket, leafy area of London, was one of the first Mulberry hero styles to break out of the label’s Somerset roots and venture into big-city living at the turn of the 21st century with its briefcase style and instantly recognizable postman’s lock fitting.

Then-creative director Nicholas Knightly, who joined Mulberry in 2002, quickly identified the brand’s heritage appeal, and set out to create a timeless handbag that married the brand’s rural countryside DNA with modern living. The Bayswater became an instant hit. Waiting lists grew and an icon was born.

Mulberry Bayswater fashion accessory

Mulberry Bayswater in Mulberry green, $1,300 / ©Mulberry

Mulberry fashion accessory

Mulberry Soft Small Bayswater in light salmon, $1,095 / ©Mulberry

While the Bayswater’s key features, rumored to have been inspired by Princess Anne, are still recognizable today (shoulder-sized handles, a postman’s lock, metal feet and adjustable side straps), each successive creative director has reinvented the style to keep it fresh in the two decades since its 2003 launch: Stuart Vevers adapted the Bayswater to suit his designer collaborations; Emma Hill experimented with mirrored gold leather; and the Bayswater became the starting point for many of Mulberry’s subsequent It bags, including the Alexa and the Lily.

The British bag maker even debuted an adorable miniature range of its cult totes in honor of its 50th anniversary this year, including a mini Bayswater in all-new colorways.

mulberry.com

[See also: How Otrium is Extending the Life of Designer Clothes]

Gucci GG Marmont

When Alessandro Michele took on the creative direction of Gucci in January 2015, he wasn’t new to the brand. Michele had worked at the Italian fashion house since 2002, and had a deep understanding of Gucci’s archive and heritage.

Having headed up the bags division and been senior designer of Gucci leather goods, Michele recognized the powerful allure of a hero bag in a collection. So when he was charged with the goal of reinventing Gucci’s props amid deflating sales, it’s safe to say he took on the challenge with great aplomb.

Gucci fashion acccessory

Gucci GG Marmont mini top handle bag in hibiscus, $2,100 / ©Gucci

Gucci GG Marmont matelassé

Gucci GG Marmont matelassé mini bag in black, $1,450 / ©Gucci

Gucci GG Marmont mini round shoulder bag in tan, $1,390 / ©Gucci

Despite a maximalist redirection of the brand’s ready-to-wear offering, Michele hit the archives for accessories, reimagining a simple interlocking double GG emblem from a belt the brand released in the 1970s on a collection of bags and belts for the fall/winter 2016 show — and thus the GG Marmont was born.

The GG Marmont, named for the famed Los Angeles Chateau Marmont hotel, has gone on to become one of the most popular handbags of the decade. Characterized by its quilted body and antique-like interlocking GG logo, the bag has since been reimagined in several new silhouettes and sizes each season, including the beloved Marmont belt bag and backpacks.

gucci.com

Céline Luggage

Former creative director Phoebe Philo’s tenure at Céline — known affectionately among the fashion industry as #OldCéline — repositioned the French house as the one to watch in the 2010s, gaining critical acclaim among the fashion elite for her women-first designs and sleek minimalism. “I just thought I’d clean it up,” Philo said at the time about her debut for the brand in 2010.

[See also: The Cambridge Look: Fashion in the Historic City]

Céline Micro Luggage handbag in light khaki, $2,900 / ©Céline

Céline Nano Luggage handbag in Prussian blue, $2,700 / ©Céline

“Make it strong and powerful — a kind of contemporary minimalism.” The British designer did the same for Céline’s accessories, and a slew of hero bag status designs followed, such as the Trio, Classic, Cabas and the extremely popular Luggage tote. Launched in 2010, the Luggage bag, affectionately nicknamed by some as the ‘robot face bag,’ was the first of many ‘It’ bags that Philo designed for Céline.

The top-handled tote in drummed crossgrain leather followed the designer’s contemporary minimalist vision for the brand and was an immediate hit, flying off the shelves and sparking long waits for stock when it was first released, and was frequently spotted on the arms of models and Fashion Week attendees in New York and Paris.

celine.com

Hermès

Luxury fashion house Hermès has developed a mushroom-based version of its leather Victoria bag. Partnering with California-based start-up MycoWorks, it has created an eco-friendly version of the classic travel bag with the start-up’s patented Fine Mycelium, a mushroom-derived textile that is transformed into a leather-like material called Sylvania. The Mycelium sheets are tanned and finished by the same Hermès tanneries in France as the real leather, to replicate its look and feel.

Hermès Victoria bag

Hermès’s Victoria bag in mushroom-based Sylvania mycelium leather by MycoWorks / ©Coppi Barbieri

Hermès isn’t the first luxury brand to experiment with alternative fabrics to replace leather — brands such as Nanushka and Khaite have used vegan leather in their ready-to-wear collections, and Stella McCartney’s use of vegetarian leather has been part of its ethos since the British designer founded her eponymous brand in 2001.

But the jury is still out as to whether the plastic polymers, polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), most commonly used to produce faux leather, are better for the environment than the production of leather proper. Which is where vegetable-based materials come in. While the Sylvania bag, set to be released by the end of 2021, will serve as an alternative rather than a replacement to Hermès’s famed leather goods, it’s the first foray into the world of sustainable leather alternatives for the storied house. Will it mark the start of a wider trend in the luxury sphere?

Bottega Veneta

Daniel Lee knows a thing or two about capturing the current spirit of fashion. Having earned his stripes under Phoebe Philo’s tenure at Céline (with the accent aigu), he rose through the ranks to design director of the brand’s ready-to-wear collections before joining Bottega Veneta as creative director in 2018.

His premiere collection for the brand paid homage to the rich history while materializing the zeitgeist of the late 2010s, making the collection — and its accessories in particular — one of the most sought-after in a long time.

Bottega Veneta bag

Bottega Veneta leather Cassette bag, $2,100 / ©Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta leather Lido sandals, $1,270 / ©Bottega Veneta

Bottega Veneta leather Pouch bag, $3,200 / ©Bottega Veneta

Soon, editors, influencers and celebrities were (virtually) lining up for a piece of Bottega’s soft, supple leather; everyone from Rosie Huntington-Whitely to Rhianna to Bella Hadid appreciated the powerful allure of the brand’s Pouch bags and Lido mules. Could it have been a frenzied scramble for Lee’s first collection at the fashion house? Perhaps. But then Lee hit it out of the park in subsequent seasons, too.

Each piece, whether new or reimagined from an archive design, seems to garner more praise than the next. Intrecciato clutches, stretch mules, almond pumps, cassette bags — you name it. The British designer even managed to make knitted bags one of the most sought-after items from the spring/summer 2021 shows.

bottegaveneta.com

Bottled up

Handbags, sunglasses and scarves. All the usual accessories you have come to expect from a luxury fashion house, no? But as technology has moved along, and our habits have changed, so too has the designer accessories offering. Just as card cases became popular as the use of cash started to become more and more obsolete in the 1990s, so too did mobile phone carriers. Even designer AirPod cases and leather hand sanitizer holders have graced catwalks. The latest accessory du jour? Hydration.

A.W.A.K.E. MODE Femke quilted mini bag, $1,231 /©A.W.A.K.E. MODE

Chloé Fredy bottle bag, $720 / ©Chloé

Marine Serre water bottle and shoulder bag, $670 / ©Marine Serre

Fendi, Marine Serre and Givenchy are among an increasing handful of designers who sent water bottles down the runways last fall, and the season’s most novel — read: practical — accessory showed no sign of slowing down for spring/ summer 2021. A stylish water bottle and accompanying carrying case is the latest in a string of fit-for-purpose accessories; everyone from Burberry and Balenciaga, Acne Studios and A.W.A.K.E. MODE has designed crossbody slings with the sole purpose of toting around your H2O.

Laid-back

Just as the rest of normal life changed over the last year, so too have spending habits and style, and it seems like designers have caught on. Gone are the stiff, structured sidekicks for spring/summer 2021.

Instead, brands have ushered in an era of laid-back luxe in response to life in a global pandemic, ringing in a plethora of cool, slouched accessories. Don’t worry though: The quality craftsmanship we know and love from these luxury houses transcends structure, and these new styles are every bit a piece of artistry as their predecessors.

Louis Vuitton leather Coussin bag, $3,550 / ©Louis Vuitton

Nanushka Anja shoulder bag

Nanushka Anja shoulder bag, $422 / ©Nanushka Anja

Loewe Flamenco clutch in nappa calfskin, $2,250 / ©Loewe Flamenco

Take the Louis Vuitton Coussin, for example: Nicolas Ghesquière’s latest hero bag for the spring/ summer 2021 collection. The monogrammed piece follows the French designer’s ethos for combining heritage design with reimagined style, and has already garnered attention in the celebrity sphere: from Louis Vuitton ambassadors Sophie Turner and Jennifer Connelly, seen clutching the pillowy soft bag in the spring/ summer 2021 campaign, to models Carolyn Murphy and Miranda Kerr.

Elsewhere, Bottega Veneta’s Pouch bag remains one of the brand’s most popular styles, while Brunello Cucinelli’s soft tote bag in luscious cream will hold everything you need for reemerging post-lockdown (hand sanitizer and all).

[See also: The 10 Best Luxury Luggage Lines in the World]

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