Successful business moguls across industries will preach that change is often necessary, if not inevitable. A look at some of fashion’s biggest names dictates that adaptability has been a mainstay, keeping the brands current, and in many cases, accessible. From world wars to environmental crises and beyond, scarcity of resources and favorability towards ethical products have shifted the lens, and left several noteworthy changes in designers’ materials. The true fashion pioneers; however, are the ones that make the shift so seamlessly, that the consumer is none the wiser, deciding the style adjustment is simply a new feat of design.
A prominent brand since its founding in 1921, Gucci managed to maintain its status by altering its designs to the evolving environment. When wartime rationing was affecting access to leather and metal, the house of Gucci refused to fold, and discovered their famed alternative: the Bamboo handle. Bridging the gap between sophisticated and bohemian, the bamboo handles came to characterize the label’s designs from the 1940s onwards, becoming an immediate icon of classic Gucci top handle bags.
Seeing a resource hole in the market, original designer of the coveted luxury label, Guccio Gucci, experimented with a variety of materials in an effort to sustain his passion for crafting venerable luxury handbags. Gucci’s resourcefulness and determination to release premium goods would manifest in linen and burnished cane (bamboo) decorating the handles of many mid-century Gucci bags. Although the political situation quickly resolved, the resulting bag remained at the height of fame, and continues to be reinterpreted into the 21st century.
Italy’s wartime rationing resulted in another famous branded detail: the introduction of the iconic red & green striped webbing. In an effort to side-step the coveted leather that was prioritized for army-efforts, the groundbreaking fashion house utilized cotton canvas material to create a detail unseen on designer handbags before. A recognizable signature, the striking mix of bold hues introduced a compelling pop to the otherwise understated luxury handbags. Today, the notorious webning is prominently featured on Gucci belts, Gucci straps, and Gucci footwear, paying homage to Guccio’s clever choice of substitution, and his dedication to his art.
Introduced on Chanel handbags in the mid 20th century, the interwoven leather & chain-link strap came to be a favorite detail among collectors, not only for its sophisticated look, but its significance in the French brand’s heritage. When faced with shortages of metal in the aftermath of World War II, the luxury fashion house swapped the 2.55 flap bag’s signature bijoux chain for a chain-link skeleton interwoven by finely grained strips of leather.
The original Bijoux strap offered some discomfort for fashionistas on-the-go, with its assemblage of heavy metal tiring our their shoulders. The innovative interwoven design timed itself into a ready-world, where women were beginning to work, and in need of something that balanced comfort utility with style.
The iconic strap became an essential trademark of contemporary Chanel handbags, finishing off the Chanel Classic Flap bags, and reimagined on other staples including the Chanel Rectangle Mini, the Chanel Wallet on Chain, and the Chanel Shopping Totes. Instantly recognizable, the strap became a signature of the French luxury fashion house and continues to be an illustration of the brand’s ability to adapt to changes throughout history.
Stella McCartney, a lifetime vegetarian, launched her groundbreaking fashion house with the promise of crafting luxury fashions without the inclusion of animal skins. A brand mission inline with her own ethos, McCartney relied on her remarkable design aesthetic to carry her brand forward, and eventually, the world caught up as the millennial shopper came into discretionary income.
The unmissable Shaggy Deer fabric, with its shocking likeness to suede, became a signature of the coveted designer, with its lust-worthy subtle metallic sheen. Along with other punishingly cool textiles, and faux leathers, Stella McCartney’s line of luxe handbags, clothing, and accessories proved the rising demand for sustainable and ethical luxury products; a phenomenon hardly acknowledged in the industry prior to her breakout.
With fashion’s pervasive activewear trend spearheaded by Prada in the ‘80s and ‘90s, their beloved Pocone nylon fabric is once again trailblazing the fashion realm, with a timely update. Prada’s soon to market new initiative consists of composing its iconic virgin nylon of the sustainable material ECONYL. Sensing consumers’ desire for change in the long-criticized practices of the fashion industry, Prada has taken on the task of pioneering the use of plastic in the making of luxury handbags. Not only does this new textile reduce Prada’s harm on the environment, but actively helps by cleverly utilizing the current waste for the creation of a luxury product.
To create their new product, Prada will be involved in the recycling and purifying of waste from the ocean, fishing nets, and the textile waste that is commonly cited as having one of the largest impact on climate change. Taking effect in 2021, these Prada handbags will be produced through an arrangement with Aquafil, an Italian textile yarn producer. The new collection of regenerated nylon will include Prada belt bags, shoulder bags, tote bags, duffel bags, and backpacks, released under the collection coined “Re-Nylon”.
True innovation often comes from necessity. While these top designers did their part, it begs the question of what changes are coming around the corner. Some acting in response to shortage, while others adapt to an environmental need. As 2020 continues to roll on in its atypical patterns, perhaps designer hand-sanitizer clochettes or external d-rings for disposable gloves make their way into vogue.
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