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From the Lady Dior to the Saddle Bag, a History of Dior Handbags

The history of handbags at Dior is as long and lovely as that of the house itself. Soon after Monsieur Dior gave the world his Corelle line in 1947, he was busy accessorizing his swan-neck, wasp-waist mannequins with satin clutches and kiss-lock leather satchels. To provide a timeline, the house of Dior was technically founded on Paris’s tony Avenue Montaigne in 1946, and the maison’s fashion history-making New Look line was presented in 1947. To say the world had gone cuckoo for Christian Dior would not be an overstatement; reports show that by 1949, Dior’s confections for the closet accounted for nearly three-quarters of France’s fashion exports. All over the globe were Miss Diors in the making, pining to present themselves like René Gruau’s illustrations for the label.

By 1950, Dior, which began as a maker of couture, started to diversify—creating just about everything a Dior patron would need to finish the look. There was perfume, appropriately dubbed Miss Dior in honor of Christian’s sister Catherine, and then in 1953 came a line of shoes; the lady could sport elegant pumps, made exclusively by Roger Vivier, that were wrapped in watercolor florals and other textiles borrowed from cocktail frocks (one’s shoes would have certainly coordinated with the rest of the ensemble). As at that time Dior was not a leather goods producer, the maison enlisted others to craft its bags. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute houses several purses in its archive that date back to the early 1950s, and in them, the stamp “Miss Dior” appears—one of Dior’s secondary lines likely produced under a license.

But the cult of Dior handbags as we know it now—the Lady bag, the Saddle bag, the Book tote—should really be traced to Marc Bohan, the second designer to take the helm of the fashion house following Monsieur Dior’s untimely death from a heart attack in 1957. (One Yves Saint Laurent was next in the line of succession, after which Bohan arrived in late 1960.) In 1967, Bohan drummed up the Oblique monogram, in which the four letters of Dior appear tossed together at an italic tilt and then stacked upon each other over and over until they form a diagonal line. It was two years before the world first saw it; look 42 from the spring 1969 collection featured a positively modish model wearing a woolly coat, bug-eye specs, and a boxy shoulder bag bearing the would-be iconic monogram. Since then, John Galliano splashed the Oblique all over everything from itty-bitty bikinis to his signature giddy-up Saddle bags, and current Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri has applied it liberally to handbags of all shapes and sizes. And no Dior handbag history would be complete without the style made famous by the most regal of Miss Diors—a certain Princess Diana, for whom Dior named the Lady Dior bag.

Since the swish of the New Look skirt was heard around the world in 1947, the Dior maison has given us plenty to talk about. The most famous Dior handbag histories, below.

In 1989, Gianfranco Ferré began his appointment as creative director for the house of Dior. One of his most lasting contributions to the brand is unquestionably the Lady Dior bag. As the story goes, in 1995, Bernadette Chirac, the wife of French president Jacques Chirac, rang up Dior with a request: She wanted the maison to craft a custom bag that would be gifted to Princess Diana on her visit to Paris. The resulting design was, appropriately, fit for a princess. It featured black quilted leather (a design inspired by the upholstery on the Napoleon III chairs Monsieur Dior used at his first shows) that wrapped an elegantly rectangular box. Like the posture required of such a lady, the bag didn’t and couldn’t slouch—and perhaps nodded to Monsieur Dior’s design philosophy: “I wanted my dresses to be constructed like buildings,” he once said. The Lady Dior bag was also crafted with a pair of demi-arched handles and yellow gold hardware. The prim purse was presented to Princess Diana at a Cézanne exhibition at the Grand Palais, and she wore it on subsequent visits to Birmingham, England, and Argentina. The bag was as beloved as the woman who inspired it, and it’s since become a permanent fixture within Dior’s handbag collection. As of late, the bag has been offered in small, medium, and large sizes fabricated—by hand—in supple calf leather, patent leather, Dior’s famed toile de Jouy, and other jazzier renditions and remixes.

John Galliano can be credited with giving the world the Saddle Bag in 1999, as part of Dior’s spring 2000 ready-to-wear collection. It was a handbag to mark a dawning age; how else were we expected to ride into the new millennium? Photos from the collection feature cut-up denim looks with thigh-high side slits and hardly any hemlines that fell straight. The style soon traveled outside the fantasy of the Galliano-verse and into the mainstream; Carrie Bradshaw carried the bag (it’s where she stashed her emergency cigarette during an unsuccessful nonsmoking stint), and so too did fixtures of the aughts like Simple Life costars Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie and The O.C.-era Mischa Barton. The bag’s defining feature was its shape, and Galliano had a ball swathing it in everything from an Oblique monogram colored in baby pink to Japanese-inspired floral embroideries. Soon after its introduction, the purse earned It bag status with recurring resurgences. In 2018, our craze for all things Y2K delivered a strong renaissance for the Saddle, and current Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri returned the style to the runway for her Americana patchwork collection that fall. Since then we’ve all been very much back in the saddle.

A season before Grazia Chiuri brought back the Saddle bag, she armed the models of Dior’s spring 2018 collection with tote bags. Dubbed the Book tote, the carryall took practically no time at all to wind up on celebrities, influencers, and that set of individuals who zigzag between Capri, Ibiza, and Saint-Tropez in the summer months. The Book tote’s rapid ascent to fashion mainstay had much to do with the fact that it was no mere tote bag. According to the maison, the style was based on a sketch by Bohan from 1967. Its simple shape serves as a blank canvas for heavily embroidered textiles featuring the Dior logo, the house toile, and even a personal monogram. Sizes range from mini to large, and there’s even a vertical shape for, say, carrying around a magazine or two.


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