Tag Archives: handbag

Handbag Icon – The Gucci Bamboo

I’m not much of a handbag person, having grown up thinking that John Romain and Aigner were the height of fashion.   I’d always been perfectly satisfied with Coach until they left New York City for first Costa Rica and then China.  But then, so had most other domestic handbag makers.

I’ve not bought a new handbag in a while for that reason.  Instead I’ve turned to vintage and recently I came across one of the best of the best.  It’s the Gucci 0633, or the bamboo-handle bag.

The Gucci records are incomplete, but according to research by fashion historian Aurora Fiorentini, the bag probably was created in 1947.  The usage of bamboo might have been a way to reduce the amount of leather to make the bag, as a result of the continuing wartime shortages.  It is thought that this design was based on a bag Aldo Gucci had brought back to Florence from a trip to London.  It was a departure from all previous Gucci handbags as it was made of rigid leather, whereas before it Gucci bags were relatively unstructured and soft-sided.  The handle was shaped by holding the bamboo over a flame, and was shaped by hand.  Gucci continued to make the 0633, with slight modifications,  for years.

A Gucci bamboo-handle bag as illustrated in a 1960 Harper’s Bazaar.  The price was $69, or around $535 in 2012 dollars.

By the late 1980s, the Gucci name was not what it once was, having been cheapened by over-licensing and the production of cheaper canvas products with huge logos.   In 1989 Maurizio Gucci hired American Dawn Mello to revamp Gucci and to try and restore the company’s reputation as a luxury maker.  One of her first acts (even before she hired Tom Ford…) was to revamp the bamboo-handle bag.  It was enlarged, and was given a detachable shoulder strap.  They also made a smaller evening version out of colored satin and suede.

Today Gucci still makes the 0633, though it is greatly tricked up, with tassels and contrasting trim and exotic leathers.  They cost considerably more than $535 and I like mine better.

Thanks to the Gucci must-read book:  The House of Gucci, Sara Gay Forden


Filed under Collecting, Vintage Clothing

Ad Campaign – Josef Handbags, 1946

Bright lucite and jet-black rayon satin in a series of afternoon and dinner bags.

It’s always a treat to find one’s vintage purchases documented in the pages of a magazine or catalog of the era.  I have quite an accumulation of vintage fashion magazines, and I’ve always got a few lying around for entertainment and educational purposes.  I’d had both magazine and handbag for a while when I was thumbing through a 1946  Bazaar, and suddenly it hit me – I HAVE that handbag.

A quick look through my photo files confirmed, that yes, indeed, I’d bought a version of the top bag some time ago.  This is collecting serendipity of the very best kind!

The $28.50 price in 1946 would be $331.28 in 2012!


Filed under Advertisements, Collecting

Currently Reading: Deluxe

Dana Thomas’ 2007 book on the luxury fashion business is one of those books that really makes you angry, but at the same time is so interesting that you can’t possibly put the book down until you have read the entire dirty story.  Since the book was published, much has come out about the “luxury” industry – Louis Vuitton ads showing their bags being handcrafted in a small workshop while they are actually made in an assembly line fashion, Burberry bags being made in Chinese factories where people are paid less than the industry average in China, the rumors of a takeover of Hermès by LVMH.

Deluxe starts in the 19th century, at the beginning of the  industry, when luxury goods were handcrafted by expert craftsmen and women for the people who could afford to pay for the very best.  Louis Vuitton and his artisans made trunks and Charles Frederick Worth made gowns for the rich and glamorous.  By the 1920s,  there were 300,000 workers in the  French luxury business, turning out lush fabrics and laces, shoes, jewelry, luggage, couture dresses and hats.

World War II severely damaged the luxury industry in Paris, and even after the war ended, it took some time for it to rebound.  The 1950s were a time of prosperity and growth, but then the 1960s came along and many of the old couture houses and luxury makers were out of step with the more youthful feel in fashion.  Many companies began licensing their name in order to increase profits.

But it was the late 1980s that saw the biggest changes in the luxury industry.  To greatly simplify the story, following the lead of Bernard Arnault the luxury industry went corporate.  Starting with LVMH  (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy), groups started acquiring the stock of many of the luxury brands.   Today it is a rare company that remains independently run, not under the umbrella of one of the big groups.

Along the same time there was a move toward “luxury for the masses.”  By masses, they mean the middle class, people who can not afford an Yves Saint Laurent couture dress, but can buy a bit of the feeling of luxury with a purchase of YSL perfume or lipstick.  These are the people who might not have $2000 for a Louis Vuitton bag, but they can splurge $300 on a small accessory.

That $300 accessory might seem like small potatoes to a company like LV, but consider their mark-up.  According to Thomas, the profits are astounding.  That $300 credit card case costs LV around $30 to make.  And companies who produce in China reap even bigger profits.

It used to be that part of the appeal of buying a luxury item was the experience itself.  The shops  were luxurious places, with attentive salespersons who knew you and your taste.   The shopper was pampered. Today, buying most “luxury” goods is like any other shopping experience.  You go into the store, pick out what you want, pay for it and leave with a shopping bag that announces that you just bought something expensive for yourself.   I was recently in the shoe department of Neiman Marcus, where there were sale racks of shoes, just like I’d expect to see in Macy’s.  People were helping themselves to $1000 shoes.  The only difference in the two shopping experiences are the prices.

However, according to Thomas, not all is lost.  There are still a few, true luxury companies, in the historical sense of the word, where the products are handcrafted using the finest materials.  Many of these are small, privately owned companies, who really do not care about growth.   But then there is Hermès, where the handbags are still hand sewn, and the silk for the scarves is woven in Italy in one of the few remaining factories that does luxury weaving.  She also sites Chanel, which still uses the finest ingredients in their perfumes, and whose couture works closely with luxury suppliers like the Lesage embroidery house.  But then, this all comes at a price.

But that is part of the point – to have the best, you have to pay for it.

Or you can buy vintage, something that Thomas mentions briefly.  Luxury items abound on online selling sites, but please, stick with sellers you know and trust, and who have a return policy.  Or you might get really lucky.  In a recent article in my local paper, a Goodwill manager mentioned that his store recently had a bag from Hermès, which he had authenticated and found it to be the real deal.  I could have cried!



Filed under Currently Reading, Designers

Enid Collins: An Interview with her Son, Jeep

I’m very pleased to be able to share with you an interview with Jeep Collins, the son of famed handbag designer and maker, Enid Collins.

*  How did Collins of Texas get its start?

Soon after World War II Frederic and Enid Collins came to Texas  and bought a small ranch close to the town of Medina.   Struggling to make a living as ranchers they began to use their talents and training to make things they could sell.  Enid studied fashion design and fine art at Texas Woman’s University and Frederic studied engineering at the University of Michigan and was also a sculptor.  Together they began to make leather handbags which she designed and he built on their kitchen table.  Frederic sculpted brass ornaments for the handbags.

* How were ideas for new designs developed?  Did Enid work as the sole designer?

She was the primary designer but Fred was also creative and had input especially in the ornaments.  He was good at figuring out how to make things, first by hand and later when he built the factory he invented various jigs to make production easier.  His father’s father was in the carriage building business in Michigan and his father invented things used in the early auto industry.

* My favorites are the box bags.  Did Collins of Texas make the wooden boxes used as the handbag base?

At first they had someone make the boxes.  When suddenly that source dried up Fred quickly acquired a large tent, until he could build a workshop, bought  woodworking equipment and began producing them himself.  The stock number prefix for the box bags was HH which stood for “high hopes.”  The success of the box bags was a major step in the growth of the company.

* I know Collins was a family business.  How were the Collins children involved in it?

Cynthia and I both worked summers in production.  Later Cynthia modeled for a series of ads run in The New Yorker.  She later went to Puerto Rico to train workers there in the factory.

*  What were some of the most unusual bags produced?

The early leather ones were very unusual.

* What were some of the most popular designs?

“Money Tree” comes to mind.  Enid did so many designs.  Every season she would have new ones ready to come out.

*  Over the years I’ve found some unusual Collins of Texas items.  What are some of the things, other than handbags, that the company produced?

Early on they made whatever they could sell.  Frederic made bronze horse sculptures, bronze ashtrays (I have one of these from his maternal grandfather’s business, Alamo Explosives), and other bronze items.  They also made leather belts with brass ornaments, leather sandals, papier mache mirror frames, paperie mache waste baskets, and papier mache broches.

*  How big a problem were knock-offs and copycats?  Did Collins of Texas ever try to take action against any of these copiers?

There was always much business discussion at home and I remember my mother especially discussing it but I do not think there was ever any action taken.  Their philosophy was to always stay ahead with new things coming out constantly.

*  Did the company copyright the designs?  I know there is a copyright symbol on some bags under the “ec” signature.


*  I’ve read that the business was sold to Tandy in 1970, with Enid continuing to work for them for a short while.  What happened to end this arrangement?

The company took a new direction not wanting to be dependant on any one designer.  This was difficult for her as a person because she built the company and now had to let others run it a different way.  Being semi-retired she then began to use her artistic talents in other things: ceramics, painting, stitchery, and other media.

* And, most importantly, was a bag with a Scotty dog motif ever produced (please say yes!)?

Quite possibly, but I can’t say for sure.

A very big thank you to Jeep, and to his son Christian Collins for arranging the interview.  Jeep is a jewelry designer and maker.  Christian has a website dedicated to all things Enid Collins. 

And I’m still looking for that Collins of Texas Scotty bag!

Photo of Enid Collins in her studio courtesy of Christian Collins.


Filed under Designers, First Person Stories

A little Insurance

Part of the charm of collecting vintage clothing is looking in the pockets and inside handbags to see what traces the former wearer left of herself.  In the years I’ve been buying vintage clothing I’ve found all kinds of objects, from playbills and wedding programs to miscellaneous pills and coins.  I’ve found sales receipts from the 1930s and bus tickets.  And I’ve found more used tissue than I care to think about.

I had forgotten I had this little scapular until my friend Lin of Vintage Voyager tweeted, needing stories about things found in handbags.

I found this at least ten years ago  in a 1940s handbag.  I had no idea of what it was, but after reading it, my thoughts were along the lines of,  “Fantastic!  A get-out-of-Hell-free card!  Who knew there was such a thing?”

And it was pretty ironic that she should ask for this story today of all days.   (For those of you reading this months down the road, this is the day that guy predicted the word was going to  Hell in a handbasket.)  It took me a while to locate it, but finally I did, and the little thing has been in my pocket ever since – just in case, you know.

If you are like me and had never seen the word scapular as a little square religious object, Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation.  As you can see, there are the remains of a braided cord.  This was originally meant to be worn around the neck.  I’m assuming it worked equally well in one’s handbag.

So, what have you found in used handbags?  Feel free to share in the comments.


Filed under Curiosities

It’s almost Memorial Day and that means…

it’s time to think about your summer handbag.  For the past few years I’ve used a trio of  fabric ones, and I do still love them, but when I spotted the basket bag above in a thrift store last week, I decided I had to add it to the mix.

When I was around 7 or 8, I had my first exposure to the power of the desirable brand name.   This was in the early/mid 1960s, way before the advent of designer jeans and the explosion of designer logos.  Most of the clothes in my family were bought at Sears, mainly because my father had worked there in the early 1950s, and his old friends there still gave him the employee discount.  So to me, clothes were just, well, clothes.

But on the school bus, one learned all kinds of fascinating things from the high school girls.  What I learned one day was that all handbags were not created equal.

One of the girls had gotten a John Romain handbag for her birthday.  All the other girls were so impressed that her bag had a name, but I couldn’t see why she named her bag John, and what the big deal about it was.   As usual, my older cousin Nancy came to my rescue, and explained that John Romain was the brand name, like Chevrolet and Frigidaire and RCA were brand names.  I had no idea!

But I started noticing, and saw that other ladies were carrying John Romain handbags, which I noticed had a little shield symbol.  I also noticed that there were lots of other bags that looked like the John Romain ones, but without the identifying symbol.  It didn’t take long for me to figure out that John’s bags were much better than the ones that merely looked like John.

The point was really driven home in junior high, when some of my classmates came to school carrying John Romain bags.  Suddenly, there were two classes of girls – those that had a John Romain bag, and those that did not.  By the time I got to high school in 1970, the bag of choice was Etienne Aigner, which was identified by a little horseshoe-shaped A and the rich dark red color.  It seemed like the goal of many girls was just to own an Aigner handbag!

So there it is, how the It Bag got its start, at least in Canton, North Carolina.

My new bag is not an It Bag, not a John Romain, nor an Aigner.  But a quick web search confirmed that both companies made very similar bags.  Mine is a copy, but ironically, so were the name brands.  These are copies of the Nantucket basket. 

There were many different straw and leather combination handbags made in the 60s, and today they are easy to find in online vintage shops and even in thrift stores.  If you are looking for one, be picky.  Make sure the straw is still in good condition and that the leather straps are strong.  And unless you don’t do leather, don’t settle for a faux leather one, as they usually look pretty cheap.


Filed under Collecting, Curiosities, Viewpoint

In the Mood for Mod

The Courreges handbag above was a recent lucky thrift store find.  (People who claim that they live in such a backwater that there is no good designer vintage to be found might want to rethink that belief, as I found this in a back-of-beyond little town.)  The bag has put me into a mod mood.  Courreges was one of the French masters of the look, and he continued to use vestiges of it even after the fashion world had moved to a softer, more romantic feeling.

So even though this bag would be right at home in a 1966 wardrobe, it was probably made several years later.  I’ve been pouring over my late 60s and early 70s magazines, and the best I can tell, Courreges really got into using this logo in 1972.  He put it on jackets and jumpers made from the same crinkled vinyl, and on tight sweaters.   And if anyone does know when this was made – if you have an ad or editorial copy showing this or a similar bag – please let me know.

Shopping alert:  There is a pink one, though a shoulder bag and not a handbag, on ebay right now.  At the present time it is cheap.

As I said, the bag got me to thinking about modness, so when I went looking to my large stack of unread books, I gravitated toward Edie, An American Biography by Jean Stein with George Plimpton.  Jean started collecting information in 1972, soon after Edie Sedgwick’s death and it took 10 years to interview all the people involved and to edit the interviews.  It was a bestseller when it was released in 1982.  And no wonder, as it is so engrossing.  I’m telling you, 1965 in New York City was not the same as 1965 in small town North Carolina!

If you love the 60s, then you have to read Edie, and when you finish it, get Popism by Andy Warhol.  You’ll thank me for this later.

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Filed under Collecting, Currently Reading, Shopping