Iconic bags have been around since fashion fused with celebrity — Hermes has the Birkin, Fendi the Baguette, Gucci the Hobo, and so on — but now they are becoming a cornerstone of brand strategy, acting as a flagship item. These are bags so exclusive and enduring they have become emblematic of the label they bear.
Ferragamo launched its own entry into the category this week with the Fiamma, named for founder Salvatore Ferragamo's late daughter, who was the force behind Ferragamo's first handbag collection in the 1970s. Designed by Massimiliano Giornetti, the satchel-styled bag takes elements from a 1990s Fiamma Ferragamo design, including a top handle and a locked flap, for a creation meant to be both functional and aesthetically appealing.
"Handbags are something of a collector's item, something you can pass down from generation to generation, so it really has value. It is something that also represents a brand," James Ferragamo, grandson of Ferragamo and the brand's director of women's leather goods, said by telephone Tuesday, ahead of a dinner launching the new bag. "We want to maintain this in our collection for many years to come."
The Fiamma comes in three sizes, from a mini-version appropriate for the evening to a larger carryall, and has many iterations, from leather, python, crocodile, stingray, calf and fox. The price ranges from $1,650 to $27,000.
Ferragamo underlined the intergenerational aspirations for the bag, reflecting the company's three-generational family history, with an online short film project featuring mother-daughter and sister pairings from iconic families, including Mariel Hemingway and her daughter Langley Hemingway Fox, that is posted on the brand's website.
Mariel Hemingway said she had no trouble signing on to the project. She's a long-time fan of Ferragamo, and appreciated the family tie-in and the chance to work with her daughter. The role of fashion in everyday life hit home for the actress and, more recently, mental health advocate during a recent speaking engagement in Washington, D.C., when she kept getting compliments from strangers on her shoes — a pair of two-tone sandals with a silver buckle by none other than Ferragamo — from the decidedly non-fashion crowd.
"The point of fashion is not for people to walk the red carpet. It is so people can live their lives looking fashionable, stylish and beautiful in any realm they work in," Hemingway said.
Hemingway's daughter has been test-driving a mini-black Fiamma, which she said is perfect for her lifestyle.
"I am not the girl with the briefcase. I am the girl who takes ChapStick, a wallet and my phone," Langley Hemingway Fox said by phone from New York.
It's no surprise that brands are honing their handbag focus. Accessories have proven themselves recession-resistant, and the economic traction they give fashion houses is making it more critical for brands to develop an iconic bag, one that "can stand as a brand's flagship item," said Ginger Reeder of Neiman Marcus.
With sales of leather goods the fastest-growing segment in the luxury sector, there is enough room for every house to have an iconic bag, "and most do," Reeder said. Global sales of leather goods, excluding footwear, reached 36 billion euros ($50 billion) last year, nearly one-third of all luxury sales, according to a study by Bain & Co.
Ultimately, the customer will decide which bag becomes iconic.
"I think people want something that endures," said Alison Minton, a fashion blogger and handbag enthusiast who chronicles her passion for accessories on her blog accessorygeneration.com. "I think people don't want to buy a new bag every season, but want a bag that is stylish and well-made and is going to last."
Minton herself has faced the "It" bag temptation. She resisted a friend's offer to pick up the Louis Vuitton Speedy Graffiti bag in Paris back in its heyday — and suffered a pang of regret when she saw the prices that the bag was later fetching on e-Bay.
Her collection now includes both icons and personal treasures, including a Birkin bag, a Gucci bag that her mother bought her in Italy a decade ago and a Goyard tote bag, which she said would now be out of her price range. "Luckily for me, when I bought my iconic bags, things were not as crazy as they are now."