The New Classics

Published: 25th April 2006
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What is it that imbues one handbag with timeless quality, while others are dated after a single season? Expert craftsmanship plays a large part in this phenomenon, as do forward-thinking, though traditionally rooted, designs. Classic handbags are rule-breakers (despite being informed by carefully studied rules), that may be worn by successfully by each woman in her own distinct way, whether she is 18 or 80. Ultimately however, it is a certain je ne sais quoi that catapults a handbag from "accessory" to "legend". The Hermes Birkin, the Louis Vuitton Speedy, the Marc Jacobs Stella and the Chanel 5.55 shot from the 20th century poised to stay relevant, respected and revered throughout the 21st. Close on their tails are the nine handbags profiled below. All have what it takes to catch up to those Grande Dames of accessories, and perhaps even outshine their legends.

The Novak by Alexander McQueen - $1,200

This expertly constructed purse resembles a decadent shell, its hard exterior conveying strength, power and mystery: Does her Novak hold a subpoena or is it hiding expensive French lingerie? Only the wearer knows for sure. McQueen's Novak is a classic take-anywhere handbag for any haughty, icy, femme fatale (or for anyone who harbors one within and seeks to offer the world a subtle glimpse of her).

The L'Orient Ariane by Kate Spade - $195

Reminiscent of Chanel's legendary 5.55, Kate Spade's L'Orient Ariane brings American insouciance to the sophisticated continental shoulder bag. Whether you are seeking to add a glamorous accent a serious suit, or a dash of grandeur to your favorite jeans and tee, the L'Orient Ariane is a handbag for every occasion. Available in a variety of shades from "Luxuriant Black" to "Feminine Fuchsia" to "Whimsical Watermelon", at only $195 each, you can practically purchase one in every color, for the price of a single 5.55.

The Nicole Carryall by A+N - $185

The "love child" of LL Bean and Prada, A+N's Nicole Carryall expertly combines New England utilitarianism with European sleekness. This bag is a must-have for the everywoman in every woman. The Nicole Carryall's functionality lends itself well to the schedule of the modern woman: careerist, athlete, social butterfly, adventuress and glamour-puss, rolled into one. As designer Anna Medvedeva says: "We are not trying to create the new "It Bag" of the moment, nor are we trying to catch ever-changing fashion trends. Instead, we work on creating the ultimate everyday bags so versatile, that everyone can bring her their own style to them." Made from weatherproof nylon canvas, in a trend-defying design, the Nicole Carryall transcends not only time, but also the elements, in functionally decadent fashion.

The Large Saddle Bag by Andrea Brueckner - $525

The woven leather of Andrea Brueckner's Large Saddle Bag carries a whiff of "I picked this up in the Mediterranean" artisanal exoticism, while its embossed sheen provides a patina of urbane polish. At first glance, the Saddle Bag may appear to be the gregarious grandchild of the Bottega Veneta hobo, but closer inspection reveals that it is a true original: With painstaking attention to detail, designer Brueckner has created lightness from suppleness, airiness from the earthly. This is anything but your average handbag don it and you'll be sure to encounter a chorus inquiring "where'd you get that bag?!"

The Roxanne by Mulberry ₤595

The ultimate in hippie luxe, Mulberry's Roxanne conjures imagery of well-heeled bohemian icons Talitha Getty and Marissa Berenson. Embodying both uptown pedigree and downtown street credibility, the Roxanne, like all natural beauties, only gets better with age. This is the perfect day bag for the woman who is more inclined to choose Masai beads over diamonds, to pair with her little black dress.

The Maya Tote by Kooba - $655

"The Maya bag is for a classy working woman who is fashion conscious and knows how to make a smart handbag investment." says buyer Alle Fister. This supple, statement bag is not for the faint of style, but it is the perfect everyday handbag for the particularly fashion-forward. A graduate of the Marc Jacobs School of Understated Opulence, the Maya Tote oozes style without screaming "look at me". Kooba spokesperson Katie Fox says: "Kooba has combined functionality with style, making it easy for the modern woman to keep herself organized with plentiful pocket room." This is the perfect bag for the downtown girl, with a sensible, suburban past: its large size accommodates well-organized efficiency, but the design is all cosmopolitan cool. It's the bag for hip girls who have successfully transitioned from being "restless in Raleigh" to "chic in the city".

The Metal Mesh Ruffle Clutch by Felix Rey - $196

This isn't your grandma's evening bag! Felix Rey's youthful alternative to the dowager-favored minaudiere comes in three shimmering, metallic shades to accentuate every outfit, and highlight every skin tone. The Ruffle Metal Clutch is everything an evening bag should be: small, sparkling and with a sense of humor. Felix Rey designers Sulaika Zarrouk and Lily Rafii have carefully created a bag with "hanging ruffles [that] move and catch the light, which creates an almost liquid effect". Both designers are long-time fans of metallics and evening bags, and says Zarrouk, they sought to create "a more modern shape with this classic material." Hold it as a clutch or utilize its small handle for extra "security". This is the perfect bag for the charming, bubbly party girl inside of us all.

The Fan Hobo by Botkier

The Fan Hobo epitomizes understated luxury. It's ideal for the woman who prefers to speak through her presence, rather than her accessories. It's ideal for the woman who is most comfortable in cashmere and pearls. It's ideal for the woman who knows that although one may not be a fashion risk-taker, she can still cultivate her own unique personal style. Reminiscent of Gucci's classic Medium Hobo, the Fan Hobo is always appropriate and will always exude subtle elegance.

The Tote by Bulga - $405

So, you've finally realized that your "Hello Kitty" handbag has to go and you should move onto something more grown up, have you? Enter Bulga's tote to the rescue! While the silhouette of the handbag says "adult", the playful, rainbow-like crescent and dangling tassel add playful elements. It's a must-have for any woman who is committed to celebrating the little girl within.

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