Is there any handbag more iconic than a Chanel bag? Upon receiving my first Chanel classic, I vividly remember shedding a tiny tear. It felt as if it had been passed down from the hands of Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel to Karl Lagerfeld and then myself. With the long shoulder strap freeing women’s hands and the zipped pouch ideal for keeping secrets, it not only was a symbol of fashion but one of femininity and freedom as well. Excuse the drama—or don’t. Chanel deserves it.
Since the inception of Chanel in 1910, the luxury brand has continued to grow alongside women as we have gained more rights and power and continued the quest for equality. Chanel is a symbol of strength, and it just so happens that Chanel bags are incredibly chic and enhance any outfit. One can look back at history to trace the evolution of Chanel, and that’s just what we’ve done below with the 10 most popular Chanel bags.
When Gabrielle Chanel created the 2.55 in February 1955 (hence the name), it created quite the scandal. It was the first women’s bag to come with a shoulder strap, leaving women free to do as they pleased with their hands, including shoving them in their pockets, for instance. It was considered a sign of rebellion, and women were thrilled with their newfound freedom. Another hidden fun fact about the bag: The secret zip pocket installed inside was originally intended for storing secret love letters, as Coco Chanel did when she was reportedly in the midst of an illicit affair herself.
Also referred to as the 11.12, Karl Lagerfeld’s 1980s update on the 2.55 stayed true to the original form while giving it a decadent flair signature of the decade. The most noticeable change came in the form of the updated lock—now featuring the iconic CC—that we have since come to know and love.
It’s called the classic for a reason. It’s a simple statement in everyone’s closets, from my own to Kristen Stewart’s. When you think of a Chanel bag or see one on the arm of a celeb, there’s a good chance it’s an 11.12.
Launched in 2011 by Karl Lagerfeld, the Chanel Boy owes its name to Gabrielle Chanel’s first love, Boy Capel. The Boy quickly won the hearts of 2.55 and classic owners with its more androgynous, rock ’n’ roll feel. In fact, the masculine edge of the Boy pays homage to Chanel herself, who was always pushing the boundaries of femininity and style.
Celebrities who seek to do the same today, such as the Miley Cyruses and Stella Maxwells of the world, can often be seen sporting the Boy everywhere from the streets to the red carpet.
The Grand Shopping Tote (also known as the GST for short) is likely the roomiest style in Chanel’s history. To the disappointment of many Chanel lovers, the GST was discontinued in 2015, which has only made it more coveted by true fashion girls.
With plenty of room for the many necessities women carry on a daily basis, the bag rose to the height of popularity in the early-to-mid 2000s with reality stars from Paris Hilton to the entire cast of The Hills toting the bag on their arms. Today, it’s a rare vintage find, making it an instant buy for anyone in the know.
With the name paying homage to Gabrielle Chanel, the bag launched during Chanel’s S/S 17 show and became an instant classic, as it was the first bag to be featured as unisex fashion.
Furthermore, the long strap and slouchy-but-still-structured shape make it extremely versatile for every man or woman. That’s likely why the icon of classic style, Meghan Markle, has been seen many a time with the Gabrielle slung over her shoulder while sporting her typical men’s shirt and jeans.
Take the Gabrielle, but make it practical. That’s what Chanel did with the backpack version of the more classic handbag above. With backpacks coming into fashion in recent years, Chanel continues to release updated versions of the Gabrielle Backpack, including in its 2019 summer collection.
Given its natural school-girl flair and easy, effortless practicality, the backpack has become a chic addition to outfits for Penelope Cruz, Cara Delevingne, and more.
Yet another popular style, the Wallet on Chain (WOC) is perfect when you’re looking to leave your GST at home. Surprisingly roomy, the WOC holds all the essentials while remaining compact and rigid. It’s likely the bag’s chic practicality that has made it such a favorite among classically stylish women like Eva Longoria and Keira Knightley.
Not necessarily what one would call a classic, Chanel’s perfume bottle nevertheless made waves when it debuted on the runway in 2013. Modeled after the iconic Chanel No. 5 perfume, this Chanel bag is an easy conversation starter. Anyone can see why trendsetters such as Kim Kardashian West or momager Kris Jenner have been seen sporting this trendy style.
If you were to host a DIY-Chanel-bag class, the Chanel Art School collection would likely be the result. For the A/W 14 line, Karl Lagerfeld did exactly that by taking a felt pen to the bag and making it the purse of rebels’ dreams. With graffiti prints and crafty embellishments, this bag has just the right amount of punk-rock edge. Tracee Ellis Ross and Elle Fanning have done this bag justice.
Last but not least, the Camera Case. With a similar purpose to that of the WOC or the Gabrielle, the Camera Case provides a small, structured leather pouch meant to be toted over the shoulder and across the chest. Ariana Grande and Ashley Benson are lovers of this tiny tote, adding it to the collection of must-have iconic Chanel bags.
This story was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.