From the reticules of the 18th Century to the mesh bags and chatelaines of the 19th century and from Japanese into to the contemporary designs of the 20th Century, the history of the handbag is also the social history of the times in which these exquisite, beautifully designed models were created. Every major couturier in the early 1920s, from Paul Poiret to Chanel and Vionnet to Schiaparelli created handbags to go with their outfits and The Secret History of The Handbag shows these creations accompanied by the fashion illustrations and fashion photographs of the time. Handbag designs were inspired by real women tably Grace Kelly and the famous Kelly bag as well as by events in the real world, such as Schiaparellis gas mask bag and in more recent times this tie-in with the famous and the photographed has grown every more important. Nowadays a handbag can be the foundation of fashion fortunes and certain designs, such as the Hermes Birkin are as famous in China as they are in the rue de la Paix.
Meredith Etherington-Smith is the author of many books on social history, taste, and fashion, including Axel Vervoordt and The Most Fabulous Jewels in the World.