Yves Saint Laurent/ Sac Muse en cuir et toile/ Photographie de Marjolijn de Groot/ Stylisme par Karina Jeffrey/ 2006
what then was the true meaning of the bag? It has played many roles before becoming the true "traveller's bag".
The oldest bag in the world is a man's bag over 5000 years old. It is a hold-all made of woven leaves and was discovered in 1991 near the frozen, mummified corpse of Ötzi the Iceman in an Alpine glacier in Northern Italy.
In the Middle Ages: The bag was an ornament for the kings of the first tribes of the Cameroons. In Europe, it could be a gamebag in goathide with clasps in the shape of the turrets of a fortress. Or for a falconer or a chaplain. One offered an embroidered purse to the bride.
In the 12th and 13th centuries: the bag was sacred. The Aztecs carried their gods on their backs, in divine bundles, in cloth or deerskin. In New Guinea, Papuan witches cast curses dug out from their bilum string bags. Africa is the greatest civilization when it comes to bags. ‘Bags of state’ acted as sceptres for the kings of the Cameroons until 1930. In Nigeria, Benin and Togo bags decorated with pearls contained the fortune telling power of the shaman. The bag can be a keepsafe between the world of the gods and the world of men.
In the 16th and 17th centuries:
- For men: the well-to-do showed off their bulging purses embroidered in gold as distinguished objects.
- For women: the fashion for ample dresses meant the visible bag disappeared. The small woven bag, the ‘reticule,’ came into being, buried within skirts like interior pockets and considered as secret as underclothes. Women hid their salts and flasks and coloured them in embroidered personal mottos. The Empire style for seethrough, body-moulding dresses led to the re-appearance of the visible bag.
October 4th 1883: the launch of the Orient Express. With the simultaneous arrival of elegant racing cars, this date marks the true coming of the art of leather adapted to the modes of travelling. The handbag became the indispensable spin-off of the traveller's bag. The top labels of the day, Asprey, Hermès, Goyard and Vuitton at their head, took off. The bag became an object of devotion.
Delphine de Malherbe
Thanks to the Sema Documentation, Paris