From rucksacks to despatch boxes, Birkin bags to Louis Vuitton luggage, Bags: Inside Out explores the style, function, design and craftsmanship of the ultimate accessory. Bags: Inside Out is the UK's most comprehensive exhibition dedicated to the ultimate accessory. With an exclusive look inside the world of the factory and atelier, this exhibition explores our longstanding fascination with the bag, from designer handbags to despatch boxes, vanity cases to military rucksacks. Bags project bold statements to the outside world whilst concealing our most treasured belongings.
Featuring around 300 objects, varying in scale from tiny purses held on a fingertip to luxurious travel trunks, the exhibition explores the function, status and craftsmanship of these highly covetable objects from the 16th century to today. The first section of the exhibition examines bags as practical objects designed to hold our belongings – from holiday outfits to confidential documents, make-up to money and even gas masks. Rare exhibits on show include a large embroidered purse used to protect Elizabeth I's Great Seal of England, a gas mask bag owned by HRH Queen Mary during the Second World War, Winston Churchill's red despatch box and Vivien Leigh's attaché case, as well as a striking Louis Vuitton trunk from the early 1900s.
Titled Status and Identity, the second of the exhibition sections looks at the central role of the bag in celebrity culture as well as its notoriety amongst the political and societal elite. Featuring a Hermès 'Kelly' named in honour of Grace Kelly, a 'Lady Dior' handbag named after Princess Diana, the Fendi 'Baguette' bag worn by and stolen from Sarah Jessica Parker in one of Sex and the City's most famous scenes and a gold Louis Vuitton 'Monogram Miroir' Speedy bag by Marc Jacobs popularised by Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. The first-ever made Hermès Birkin bag, owned by Jane Birkin, and Mulberry handbags worn by Kate Moss and Alexa Chung also feature. The use of bags as a blank canvas for slogans, personal statements and political messages and their role as a public platform to share beliefs and convictions is represented through objects including an anti-slavery reticule bag from 1825, the 'I am NOT a Plastic Bag' tote by Anya Hindmarch and a 'My Body My Business' handbag by artist and activist Michele Pred.
The final section of the show will look at the Design and Making process from sketch to sample, sewing to selling. A 'maker's table' will allow visitors to get up close with bag making processes and materials, alongside newly commissioned interviews with designers and makers. Sketches, samples and prototypes from international fashion houses and the UK luxury brand Mulberry will show the innovative early stages of the design process. A hotbed for collaboration, the bag offers an opportunity for experimentation and statement designs. A 17th-century purse in the shape of a frog, Thom Browne's handbag in the form of his dog Hector and a Chanel bag transformed into a milk carton will explore the surrealism and humour evoked through accessories.
The exhibition finishes with designers experimenting with innovative and environmentally sustainable materials, including a Stella McCartney backpack made from recycled ocean plastic waste and a bag crafted from decommissioned fire hoses by Elvis and Kresse.
Explore online: Bags: Inside Out at the V&A