Vintage Chanel Handbags
When Karl Lagerfeld was tapped as creative director of Chanel in 1983, it was widely unknown how he would re-imagine the historical legacy of Chanel. Coco Chanel had been gone for 12 years, and the luxury fashion house was struggling to fill the void she had long held. Karl Lagerfeld would quickly prove to be the distinctive persona that Chanel desperately needed. With his regular uniform of a black suit, dark shades, a powdered white ponytail, and fingerless leather gloves, Lagerfeld infused the brand with a modern spirit and fresh perspective. As the self-proclaimed “channeler” of Coco, he dedicated himself to keeping her legacy alive with each new collection. Constantly referring to the design archives of Coco Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld was directly inspired by her iconic creations. As a master tastemaker and avatar of style, Karl Lagerfeld would revolutionize fashion for the modern woman up until his fateful passing in 2019. His earliest bags from the 80s and 90s are the most popular of all vintage Chanel bags. The vintage Chanel bags from Karl's early time with Chanel sell for multiples of the original retail price on secondary marketplaces like Sotheby's.
Karl's Most Coveted Bags
Karl Lagerfeld’s inaugural designs from the ‘80s and ‘90s have remained the most highly sought after pieces for vintage Chanel hunters. His radical riffs on the iconic motifs and classic designs of Chanel were unexpected and immediately coveted. Moreover, the value of vintage Chanel bags is enhanced by real 24k gold-plated hardware, as evidenced on chains, clasps, grommets, and CC turnlocks. In late 2008, Chanel pivoted from 24k gold hardware to gold-toned hardware, subtly differentiating vintage and modern pieces. Lagerfeld was a master of branding and quickly modernized the luxury fashion house, as evidenced through his transformation of the interlocking “CC” design. He famously declared, “logos are the Esperanto of marketing, luxury, and business today.” Karl Lagerfeld turned an aging fashion house into the ultimate status symbol, and his earliest handbag designs are a testament to the enduring power of his vision. We have highlighted the best vintage bags every Chanel handbag lover should have in their collection. Chanel's most iconic models from Karl's early years are the Classic Flap with Double C turn-lock, Camera bag, Vanity Case and the Diana Flap. The original Chanel bags from the 80s and 90s are worth seeking out.
Chanel Classic Flap
From Coco’s 2.55 Flap Bag, designed in 1955, came Karl’s Classic Flap, debuted in 1983. With this iconic reinterpretation came two new features – a leather woven chain and Double C turn-lock closure. Additionally, the Classic Flap came with an endless range of options, including quilting (the iconic classic vs. the more youthful chevron), leathers, sizes, flaps (single vs. double), and hardware combinations. Recognized and highly sought after for its universal wearability and simplicity, Lagerfeld’s inaugural Classic Flap bag was a breakout success. Now synonymous with the Chanel brand, it comes as little surprise that a vintage Classic Flap is the ultimate find.
Chanel Camera Bag
As one of Karl Lagerfeld’s earliest handbag designs in the 1980s, the Chanel Camera Bag is a clever and elegant reinterpretation of the camera cases once used by photographers. With a full-zip closure and crossbody strap, the Chanel Camera Bag has tremendous interior capacity and provides secure protection of your belongings. Despite its occasional release in more modern day collections, the Camera Case is among the most elusive Chanel bags ever designed. As such, this Chanel handbag has the allure of rarity, and collectors avidly seek out its earliest iterations, signified by the iconic tassel flap.
Chanel Vanity Case
Reminiscent of the Audrey Hepburn era, and the cases that women used to carry cosmetics and toiletries during travel, Karl Lagerfeld first introduced the Chanel Vanity Case in the ‘90s. The Vanity bag is both nostalgic and practical, and made a fitting comeback in the Chanel Airlines Spring/Summer 2016 collection. Taking on the structure of real luggage, the Vanity manages to feel both glamorous and practical. Despite its various iterations to date, the most timeless Chanel Vanity can only be found in a vintage hunt.
Chanel Diana Bag
Constantly seeking inspiration from the world around him, Karl Lagerfeld placed tremendous value in his muses, as these fashionable women helped solidify his designs as timeless classics. As such, Princess Diana of Wales, the ultimate style icon of the ‘80s and ‘90s, had a tremendous impact on Lagerfeld and the living legacy of Chanel. Produced from 1989 to approximately 1995, the Chanel Diana bag is a coveted find among vintage hunters and Diana admirers alike. This classic design closely resembles that of the Chanel Single Flap, and was sported so frequently by Princess Diana, that Karl Largefeld felt it only fitting to honor her in the name. The handbag was resurrected in the Spring 2015 collection, but the vintage Chanel Diana in caviar leather remains the most elusive and sought-after variation ever crafted.
Guide to Buying Vintage Chanel Bags
Given the most sought after vintage Chanel bags are 20+ years old there are a few things to consider when buying a vintage Chanel bag or accessory. The most important thing to keep in mind is the bags aren't new so there should be some expectation of age and patina depending on the condition. Vintage Chanel bags will generally show the most wear on the bottom corners of the bag. Additionally it's important to inspect hardware for scratches and marks. Other things to inspect is the stitching for loose threads and leather for scratching. The good news is you can find excellent vintage Chanel bags on secondary markets and at auction. Sotheby's handbag specialists are always seeking out the best vintage Chanel bags and accessories so make sure to review both online listings and auctions. Given the high demand for vintage Chanel bags, the availability of high quality counterfeit bags has also grown. Only buy from established resellers and auction houses that have experience authenticating vintage Chanel.